BURRILLVILLE – A Burrillville woman with several decades of experience in law has been hired as Burrillville’s new municipal court judge, following the resignation of both attorneys appointed by the Town Council last December.
Brenda Ferry, an attorney who has run her own Providence-based practice for the past ten years, will assume the role, presiding over a courtroom that handles traffic offenses at the Burrillville Police station on the first and third Monday of every month.
Nicholas Gorham of Coventry, a partner at the Scituate-based firm Gorham & Gorham, will serve as the town’s associate judge, filling in when Ferry is unavailable.
The appointments follow the surprise resignations of Judge Kimberly Brissette Brown in February and Assistant Judge Kevin Heitke last week.
In a letter submitted Friday, Feb. 1, Brissette Brown, a former member of the council, explains that her employer – a state government agency – rejected her request to continue in the role.
“Those of you that know me can appreciate how devastating this decision is for me,” wrote Brissette Brown.
If news headlines are any indication, Heitke’s decision was a little more complicated.
In a May 3 article in the Providence Journal, Heitke is identified as the “bankruptcy lawyer and lover,” of Monique Brady, “an East Greenwich woman accused of bilking more than $4.4 million from close friends and family.”
The article notes that Brady and Heitke purchased one-way airline tickets to Vietnam, a trip that amounted to a “failed attempt to flee from prosecution,” according to the judge that ordered Brady held.
Heitke, who also previously served on the council, had been filling the judgeship in Burrillville since Brissette-Brown’s resignation. The current vice chairman of the Burrillville Democratic Town Committee, Heitke was also a founding member of the Burrillville Land Trust, and ran for the District 23 Senate seat last November, ultimately losing to Republican Sen. Jessica de la Cruz.
He is married with three adult children.
“In light of recent personal issues that I have to deal with, I am respectfully giving you notice of my immediate resignation,” wrote Heitke to the Burrillville Town Council in a letter dated Monday, April 29.
Councilor Amanda Gingell had suggested that Heitke be named the regular municipal court judge prior to the recent incident, but the plan did not receive support from other councilors, who said they wanted to accept additional resumes.
That course of action brought in Ferry and Gorham.
Ferry, who has a doctorate from Rhode Island University School of Law, said she has been a resident of Burrillville for the past 18 years. Her firm specializes in personal injury, family law, criminal cases, and simple wills.
Gorham is a graduate from Boston University School of Law School, was a member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives from 1999 to 2009, and serves as an attorney for the towns of Coventry and Scituate.
Solicitor William Dmitri noted that both were strong candidates.
“They both have a vast amount of experience,” said Dmitri. “They’re both highly qualified, well-respected.”
As the Town Council took up the issue of the new appointments, both Ferry and Gorham said they’d be happy to take the secondary role of assistant, if the other was appointed judge.
“The traffic court is the highest impact court in the state of Rhode Island,” said Dmitri. “You see more people who have never been to court in their life. It’s the first impression for many of them – and many don’t show up. These people are entitled to respect and a full, fair hearing.”
Councilor Jeremy Bailey said it’s important that the judge not see the job as a revenue generator.
Councilor Dennis Anderson said the applicants put the council in a good position.
“We have two positions and we have two really qualified candidates,” said Anderson. “I would like to see the two work as a team.”
It was Ferry’s status as a Burrillville resident that ultimately seemed to be the deciding factor.
The pair’s term is set by charter to run through December 31, 2020.