RI Lawyers Weekly is doing a series of interviews with the candidates for attorney general.
If the winds are blowing against political insiders this year, Stephen R. Archambault, one of three Democrats vying for the attorney general’s post in the Sept. 14 primary, may be in an enviable position.
While Archambault likes to point to his experience as a Warwick attorney, Smithfield Town Council member, Lincoln town prosecutor and Jamestown police officer, he’s also quick to mention a job he’s never held: that of legislator.
Archambault has tried to boost his populist credentials by publicly calling for measures to prevent State House corruption and by criticizing the double-digit rate hikes proposed by Blue Cross Blue Shield.
But Archambault’s self-described “Type A personality” has also brought him some unwanted attention. His campaign backtracked from a claim he made that Blue Cross’ headquarters contained a lavish marble table after a Providence Journal reporter failed to find the ornate piece of furniture in the company’s offices. And last week a local website published portions of a 2008 police report filed by a Department of Environmental Management officer who claimed Archambault was uncooperative and threatening when he stopped the lawyer for speeding.
Archambault spoke with Lawyers Weekly reporter Noah Schaffer last week about his background and his run for AG.
Q. You’ve been a town prosecutor and a criminal defense lawyer, so is it fair to say that your background is largely on the criminal side?
A. I’ve been a defense attorney for over 10 years, doing everything from municipal traffic tickets to felonies. I’ve been in nearly every courtroom in the state of Rhode Island. But I’ve also done some civil work, some Family Court work in the beginning of my career, and I’ve done a lot of personal injury work. So it wouldn’t be fair to say that all I do is criminal work. I’m the only Democratic candidate who is a trial prosecutor. [Independent AG candidate] Keven McKenna will say you don’t have to be a trial prosecutor to be attorney general, but when you roll the tape back you’ll see as far back as you can look that they’ve all been prosecutors. I have three more trials coming up before the campaign is over.
Q. Much of the attorney general’s work involves civil work, for example involving utility and consumer issues and white-collar criminal prosecutions. Would those parts of the job present a challenge to someone with your background?
A. It’s all about the leadership. I’ve been president of the Smithfield Town Council, overseeing a $50 million budget. I got charter amendments passed that hadn’t been passed in 20 years, and I did it in a bipartisan fashion by putting together a nine-member charter review board. Then I put together a financial review board. Five of the members were finance directors, and they look at the budget on a monthly, not an annual, basis.
Smithfield has an A-bond rating and a $12 million reserve during this time of financial crisis. I created a [proposed] mortgage fraud policy that’s so detailed and so in depth. I was talking about mortgage fraud for over a year, and recently we saw [outgoing Attorney General Patrick C.] Lynch and U.S. Attorney [Peter F.] Neronha create a task force, and I think to myself quietly that I was the first one banging the drums. … The first candidate to talk about the Blue Cross [proposed rate hikes] was me. … I’m a humble man, but it’s not the time to be shy when it comes to dealing with Blue Cross. I haven’t taken their money; other [Democratic candidates] have. I’ve also spent time studying power issues.
Q. Looking at Attorney General Lynch’s tenure, what did he do well? What parts of the office need improvement?
A. He’s done some things very well. Fighting [a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal] is one of them. Every attorney general has a different leadership style. Mine [would be] a very proactive one. I’m a macro-manager, not a micro-manager. I expect a lot of the people who work for me. I’ll be very attentive to the different units that we have. But I won’t Monday-morning quarterback Patrick Lynch. There are things I’d do differently. We’re different people. I’ve talked to five prior attorney generals and the active attorney general, and they all had different styles. One thing I won’t worry about is getting a favor, about getting to the next political stepping stone. If I go back to being a lawyer; I’m fine with that. That’s the difference between me and the other candidates.
Q. What specific changes would Rhode Island lawyers notice if you became attorney general?
A. I’d like to put in a 93A statute so we could … hold [companies] who really hurt consumers responsible. The Massachusetts model, with treble damages, is a great model. I’ve talked actively about prosecuting prevailing wage and misclassification-of-wage violators. It’s illegal conduct. People are found to be violators by the Department of Training and Labor, and it’s not enforced by the Attorney General’s Office.
Q. Is the problem with the enforcement or with the statutes?
A. The problem is with the enforcement. I’m not looking backwards but … you’ll see people prosecuted for prevailing wage violations, and that will trickle into [stopping] abuses of people coming and taking advantage of workforce that isn’t properly documented.
Another thing that I’ll look at is the Johnston landfill. … [The Attorney General’s Office] should have a member on the board. We should have more Ethics Commission oversight. … If we did, everyone would be held strictly accountable. No one should be beyond the reach of scrutiny.
Q. As AG, you can’t change the law. How do you get the Legislature to change the laws governing its own conduct?
A. You get the backbone to go to the podium and call on the General Assembly to enact oversight. I haven’t been [serving] there for 20 years. … I love my local senators and representatives, and I’m not accusing everyone there of criminal behavior, but if you think [opponent Rep. Peter F. Kilmartin] will prosecute everyone in the Legislature, I’ve got some oceanfront property for you in Las Vegas.
Q. What happened during the traffic stop that led to the 2008 DEM police report that was recently released?
A. It was an illegal stop, and there was no basis for it. [The DEM officer] was speeding, and he didn’t like that I motioned with my hand for him to slow down. A lot of what is in that report is absolutely not accurate. If you look at the report, it was edited after the fact. … He realized he couldn’t stop me without probable cause. … I wish it hadn’t happened, but it happened and nothing came out of it.
Q. The report claims you told the officer that he “picked the wrong guy to pull over” and that you boasted about having a pilot’s license and a black belt in karate. Do you have a pilot’s license? Are you a black belt?
A. I have a pilot’s license. I’m not a black belt. Some of the stuff in there is easily obtainable. I don’t want to be characterized after a lifetime of hard work. It was an illegal traffic stop, and [the report is] not accurate. Let’s be clear on that.STEPHEN R.ARCHAMBAULTAge: 45Graduated: Roger Williams University School of Law, 2000Bar admission: 2001Legal experience: Solepractitioner, Warwick (2000-present); town prosecutor, Lincoln (2004-present)Political experience: Smithfield Town Council (1998-present), president (2007-2008)Party affiliation: Democrat
STEPHEN R. ARCHAMBAULTAge: 45Graduated: Roger Williams University School of Law, 2000Bar admission: 2001Legal experience: Sole practitioner, Warwick (2000-present); town prosecutor, Lincoln (2004-present)Political experience: Smithfield Town Council (1998-present), president (2007-2008)Party affiliation: Democrat
STEPHEN R.ARCHAMBAULTAge: 45Graduated: Roger Williams University School of Law, 2000Bar admission: 2001Legal experience: Solepractitioner, Warwick (2000-present); town prosecutor, Lincoln (2004-present)Political experience: Smithfield Town Council (1998-present), president (2007-2008)Party affiliation: Democrat