Rhode Island

Providence defends former mayor in firefighters’ gay pride parade lawsuit


PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci did not violate the rights of firefighters ordered to drive a fire truck in a 2001 gay pride parade, a lawyer for the city argued to the Rhode Island Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Providence-fire-deptA lawyer for the two firefighters told the justices that her clients’ constitutional religion and free speech rights were violated when they were ordered to drive in the parade.

The arguments centered on the question of whether Cianci and his then-fire chief are immune from being sued over the decision. Cianci was forced from office in 2002 after being convicted of corruption. He is currently in the midst of a campaign to win back City Hall. Both sides said the timing of the hearing was coincidental.

Cianci sat in the front row during the arguments and occasionally chuckled as the justices and lawyers hashed out their arguments.

He was represented by the city’s lawyer, Kevin McHugh, who argued that the city sent trucks to various parades as a matter of course, including the Columbus Day parade, Purim parade and others, and driving in the parade was part of the firefighters’ regular duties of community outreach. He said no constitutional rights were violated.

McHugh called the case “ridiculous.”

The firefighters’ lawyer, Gina DiCenso, argued that the act of participating in the parade and driving the truck was a show a support for the parade, but the justices seemed skeptical.

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“They’re anonymous public servants,” Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg said, comparing it to being called to fight a fire in a temple or in a mosque.

DiCenso said that when the men asked to get a substitute, they were not allowed to do so. The two firefighters drove the truck in the parade, but partway through were called away to a fire.

Outside the courthouse, Cianci said if elected, he would likely make the same decision again. He said he had no idea until recently that the case was still in court, and that he shouldn’t have to still be faced with uncertainty about whether he’ll have to pay damages in the case.

“From 2001 to 2014. That’s a bit long, don’t you think?” Cianci said. “Public officials who make decisions based on what they truly believe and what they think their job is should not be, 13 years later, in front of the Supreme Court.”

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