2018-04-19 / Front Page

Judge Darigan adds R.I. Heritage Hall of Fame to his resume


Francis Darigan Jr., a retired Superior Court judge, swears in elected officials at Town Hall following the 2016 election. 
PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN Francis Darigan Jr., a retired Superior Court judge, swears in elected officials at Town Hall following the 2016 election. PHOTO BY ANDREA VON HOHENLEITEN When Francis Darigan Jr. first heard he would be inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, he didn’t think much of it.

“I thought they had that event confused with something else I was involved in,” said the retired Rhode Island Superior Court judge.

Then he received a letter from Patrick Conley, the organization’s president. “It was a complete and utter surprise,” Darigan said.

The West Reach Drive resident will be inducted during a May 5 ceremony at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. The hall honors

Rhode Islanders who have left an impression on the state’s history.

Darigan is “amazed” to join the list of Ocean State residents who have been inducted since the organization was founded in 1965. Those notable figures range from Roger Williams to Oliver Hazard Perry, from cartoonist Don Bousquet to radio announcer Salty Brine.

“It’s quite a list of truly accomplished Rhode Island citizens,” Darigan said. “It’s an honor to be numbered among them. It came as a total surprise because I never thought that I would be considered for something of that nature.”

According to Conley, Darigan was selected by a 25-member board of trustees. The panel generates nominees through its own vetting system and public suggestions. Darigan was nominated by Justice Assistance, a Cranston legal organization that he co-founded 40 years ago. By working with courts and correctional facilities, the agency advocates for both victim services and rehabilitation programs for criminal offenders.

The board that reviews the credentials of these nominees are longtime Ocean State residents “with a good grasp on the history of the state,” according to Conley.

“The individuals on this board are a good representation of Rhode Island leadership,” he said. “It’s a very distinguished group.”

Darigan was selected for both his storied career and his history of community service on the south side of Providence, which is where he was raised. The civic aspect was particularly emphasized by Conley because judges are rarely inducted solely for their work on the bench. While the board was impressed by his judicial credentials, it was his extracurricular activities that sealed the deal, including his role as a founding board member for the Institute for the Study and Practice of Nonviolence.

“He’s done all kinds of things, not only legally, but as a coach, as a social worker, as a trustee of the church,” said Conley, Rhode Island’s historian laureate. “He’s a major link between the south side’s illustrious past and its hopeful future.”

On the judicial side, Conley cited a letter written by Superior Court Judge Daniel Procaccini that was published in the Providence Journal when Darigan retired in 2012. Procaccini described Darigan’s courtroom as having a “special aura” that “facilitated rather than obstructed the litigation process, a place free from predisposition, bias or attitude.”

Darigan was born in Providence in 1942. He earned his undergraduate degree at Providence College in 1964 and earned his law degree from Suffolk University Law School in 1971. That same year, he was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar Association. In 1984, he was appointed to the Rhode Island District Court and became a temporary Superior Court judge in 1986. In 1991, his temporary position was made official. He’s handled everything from simple civil cases to “not-very-nice” criminal cases.

“I just had a varied career,” he said.

Darigan presided over several prominent trials during his tenure, including the case against the Derderian brothers. As owners of the Station nightclub, the Derderians were charged following the fire in February 2003 that killed 100 people. That case ended in a plea agreement in December

2006. Darigan sentenced Michael Derderian to four years in prison with an 11-year suspended sentence. His brother, Jeffrey, received a 10-year suspended sentence.

Earlier that year, Darigan also presided in the case against Daniel Biechele, the manager of the rock band Great White. He was convicted to four years in prison for igniting the pyrotechnics that started the Station blaze.

Darigan also flirted with a career in politics, running for mayor of Providence in 1974, 1978 and 1982, losing the latter two elections to Buddy Cianci. He moved to Jamestown in 1994, never looking back. He said it’s a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital city.

“I think Jamestown is a wonderful, welcoming community,” he said. “I’ve been happy from the day we got here.”

While he continues his civic work in Providence, he also has become socially involved in his adopted hometown. He and his wife, Hope, are members of the Jamestown Community Chorus. She also is a regular with the community theater.

Although Darigan is still a week away from joining Conley, a 1995 inductee, in the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, the two men are no strangers. Conley, who was a professor when Darigan attended Providence College, was Cianci’s chief of staff when Darigan campaigned against the Republican. Also, when Conley successfully sued the Providence Journal for libel in the 1980s, Darigan was the presiding judge.

“He did so with incredible dignity and fairness,” Conley said. “When he sat on that bench, no one was more just and fair.”

Darigan said he has yet to write his speech for the induction ceremony next month, but he is looking forward to meeting the other inductees. The 2018 class also includes television news anchor Patrice Wood, former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and writer Ken Dooley.

“It’s an amazing event that I never contemplated being accorded to me,” Darigan said.

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