Honorable Francis J. Darigan Jr. hangs up his robe after 28 years
Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Francis J. Darigan Jr. retired from his position on the bench last month after a 28-year judicial career. Darigan was born and raised in Providence, and he has lived in Jamestown for the last 18 years.
“I hope the legacy that I leave is that I’ve done the best I can to be objective, to be the kind of person that would be extremely nonjudgmental and compassionate when that’s called for and as temperate as possible,” Darigan said. “I let the attorneys put on their cases and gave everybody that came before me the respect and dignity that they’re due because these are life-changing events for people, whether they’re in a criminal situation or a civil situation.”
Darigan attended Tyler School and La Salle Academy before moving on to Providence College, where he got his undergraduate degree in 1964. He then served two years active duty with Army Intelligence before taking a job with Nationwide Mutual Insurance. While there he pursued his legal education at Suffolk University Law School.
After getting his law degree in 1971, Darigan became the inhouse counsel for Nationwide. He was considering a career in public service and continued his studies at the University of Rhode Island where he earned a master’s degree in public administration in 1974.
That same year he ran in the primary election to be a candidate for mayor of Providence. He subsequently made two more runs for mayor – in 1978 and 1982 – but lost both elections to Buddy Cianci, the last one by just over 1,000 votes.
Darigan started his own law practice and remained in private practice until he was appointed to the District Court by then Governor J. Joseph Garrahy on Jan. 26, 1984. Two years later he was brought up to the Superior Court on a temporary basis as a result of the illnesses of some Superior Court judges.
Despite his temporary status, Darigan spent about 90 percent of his time on Superior Court cases until he was formally appointed to the court by Bruce Sundlun in 1991. He served in that position until Feb. 29, 2012.
Darigan handled some highly visible cases during his time on the bench. Although the criminal cases received the most attention, he was also involved in some high verdict cases involving medical negligence and contract liability.
The most widely known case of Darigan’s career was The Station fire. In February 2003, 100 people died in the nightclub blaze. The criminal prosecutions of the nightclub owners were heard by Darigan and the trial eventually ended in a plea agreement.
Darigan was involved in a number of other prominent cases. He said he had the “unfortunate circumstance” of sentencing former Governor Edwin DiPrete to a year in prison for some “nefarious activity” that he was involved in.
“I put many police officers and lawyers in jail as a result of trials involving plea negotiations, even a Superior Court judge (Antonio Almeida) in the early 1990s when I was up on loan as a temporary appointment to the court,” Darigan said.
Darigan ended his career with another in a string of high-profile cases. Darigan presided over the case against Providence Police Detective Robert DeCarlo, who was charged with simple assault after surveillance cameras captured him striking a robbery suspect after he had already been handcuffed. “That was a pretty long case,” the judge said. “It was three weeks of actual trial and two weeks of pretrial motions. It ended in the court declaring it to be a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct.”
According to Daniel Procaccini, a Superior Court judge who was Darigan’s colleague for 11 years, Darigan is the epitome of what a judge should be. “I had the good fortune to practice in front of Judge Darigan as a lawyer and then spent the last 11 years with him as a colleague,” Procaccini said. “I know him from both sides of the bench and that gives me a unique perspective.”
Procaccini said that as a lawyer, appearing in front of Darigan was a respite. “He was the kind of judge where you could breathe a sigh of relief because you knew that he was a very helpful and patient judge to appear in front of,” Procaccini said. “He ran a very dignified courtroom. You were treated fairly and he was a facilitator as opposed to an obstructing kind of judge. It was always a good experience as a lawyer.”
Procaccini said that he had a good feeling when he practiced law in front of Darigan. He also said Darigan was one of the few judges that he felt comfortable going to for advice. When Procaccini was appointed to be a judge, Darigan had already been on the bench for nearly 20 years and Procaccini said he was a wonderful resource to learn from.
“He’s a thoughtful guy – patient and respectful to everyone who appeared in front of him and very helpful to his colleagues. I would frequently go across the hall to get his advice, get his input, and he was always very kind, very generous with his time, and always had a very thoughtful solution or suggestion for me. I really appreciated that and he was like that with all of his colleagues. He was certainly one of the most respected members of our court. He will go down as one of the outstanding members of our Superior Court, no question about it.”
Darigan may have retired from his position on the bench, but his busy life of community involvement continues. He is a founding board member of the Institute for the Study & Practice of Nonviolence and has been on the board 10 years. Darigan said it’s an important organization that tries to interdict violence. They focus on teaching young children that there are better ways to resolve difficult situations than violence or aggression.
“We teach Martin Luther King’s principles of nonviolence to them,” he said. “We’re in some of the schools. We also have a street workers program that has received a lot of publicity. We have young men and women who try to work with the numerous gangs in Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls to try to give them direction as to how they can resolve their differences without resorting to violence. That’s a worthwhile goal and I’ve been spending a lot of time with them in my off time.”
Darigan will also be the grand marshall of Saturday’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Providence. “It is a very significant and major parade in Rhode Island and I’ve had a lot of fun doing that.”
Locally, Darigan is an active member of the Jamestown Community Chorus and a parishioner at St. Mark Church. However, his main religious affiliation remains with St. Michael’s in Providence.
“While I’m pleased to be a parishioner of St. Mark here in Jamestown as well, I told Father O’Neill when I moved here that my primary interest had to be St. Michael’s because it’s a very poor parish in an inner city community. He understands that.”
Darigan is also a member of the president’s council at La Salle Academy and at Providence College, where he is helping to plan his 50th class reunion.
Darigan said that over his 28 years on the bench he has interacted with – and mentored – “quite of few” judges. “I hope that any good points that I may have demonstrated to them will be carried on.”
He said that it’s important to carry on the tradition of independent evaluation of cases and to make sure that the rules of evidence are complied with and there is civility in the courtroom. He added that it’s also imperative that all litigants – whether they’re criminal defendants or civil complainants – have the opportunity to present their case fairly without a bias or untoward advantage.
“We as judges are effectively referees in a sense, making sure that everybody gets to put on their case according to the rules, without bias and without being an advocate for either side. I think that’s important and I’ve tried to do that throughout my 28 years.”
He continued: “By operating the courtroom with civility and decorum, and by making sure that everybody abides by the rules, we can assure the fact that when they leave a trial, whether they’ve won or lost, that they’ve been treated fairly and honestly. That’s what I hope will be remembered about my service and what they should expect from the entire Superior Court.”
Darigan is excited to retire to such a great place such as Jamestown. Along with his involvement with the community chorus, his wife is active in the community theatre.
“It’s a wonderful town,” he said. “It’s a welcoming community. It’s really a unique piece of Americana.”