House counsel sever legal ties with Rep. Carlos Tobon over new policy

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PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) – Attorney John Manni has asked a Superior Court judge to remove his name from a case involving Representative Carlos Tobon, citing a new policy that prohibits State House attorneys from representing the legislators in personal disputes.

In the motion filed Monday to withdraw his representation, Manni explained that he had defended Tobon in litigation involving an unpaid debt totaling $21,000 that lawmakers borrowed from a childhood friend in 2005.

In April, a judge ordered Tobon to pay off the debt in full, which had grown to more than $45,000 due to interest. In the lawsuit, the childhood friend also accused Tobon of committing fraud by illegally using his parents’ house as collateral for the loan.

The legal dispute came to light as part of a month-long Target 12 investigation examining Tobon’s business dealings and financial troubles over the past two decades. The story prompted House Speaker Joe Shekarchi to draft the new policy, barring State House attorneys from representing House and Senate lawmakers in private disputes.

“A recent policy decision made at the Statehouse does not permit an employee … to represent a sitting legislator in a personal matter,” Manni wrote in his motion to withdraw. “Further, the policy requires that if an attorney client relationship exists at the time of the implementation of said policy, the attorney must take immediate steps to terminate and withdraw from said representation.”

Manni did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Before writing the new policy, Shekarchi said he was unaware of Tobon and Manni’s personal relationship until he saw Target 12’s investigation, adding that he didn’t approve of it. not.

“There’s definitely enough legal work around that people don’t have to get legal work from the state house,” said Shekarchi, who is also a lawyer by trade. “There are a lot of customers around.”

Shekarchi also requested and received Tobon’s resignation from several legislative positions – including as a member of the powerful House Finance Committee – as well as his position as Deputy Majority Leader. The speaker said he was surprised at the number of people in conflict with Tobon and that the issue required “quick and decisive action”.

Tobon, who remains a House lawmaker, defended his past business dealings and debts — most of which he did not disclose on state ethics forms, as required by law. While acknowledging that he made mistakes, Tobon told Target 12 that he never meant to cheat on anyone.

On Monday, Shekarchi said he would not fill the position vacated by Tobon on the House Finance Committee this session.

“We are nearing the end of the legislative session, and it is too late in the process to appoint a new member of the finance committee,” he said in a statement. “The current 14 members have heard testimony in dozens of hearings.”

The speaker also won’t appoint a new chair of the finance subcommittee on environment and transport – which was led by Tobon before his resignation – as a spokesperson pointed out that the group had already concluded its budget hearings. for this year.

The vice chair, Rep. Scott Slater, a Democrat from Providence, would be available to answer any questions about previous subcommittee hearings, according to the spokesperson.

Eli Sherman ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Tim White ([email protected]) is the editor of Target 12 and chief investigative reporter for 12 News, and host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.

Ted Nesi ([email protected]) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and a 12 News political/economics editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

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