WESTERLY — Two candidates for the position of Municipal Court judge will each be interviewed a second time at the request of the Town Council. The additional question-and-answer periods will be conducted in private, unlike the initial public sessions.
The council interviewed the incumbent candidate, Peter L. Lewiss, who has presided over the court for 12 years, and Tia M. Priolo, a lawyer who held the position from 2007-2009, Monday in public and later adjourned to an executive session. Council members decided to invite both Lewiss and Priolo back for second interviews that will be conducted in private, according to Town Council President Sharon Ahern, who also said the two candidates had agreed to be interviewed a second time.
During the public interviews, Lewiss and Priolo both discussed their interest in and qualifications for the job. Councilor Philip Overton was the only councilor who asked questions, posing the same set of inquiries to each candidate. Councilor Suzanne Giorno recused from participating in the discussion and appointment process, saying she had a "business conflict."
The Municipal Court handles traffic infractions, parking tickets, ordinance violations, including some zoning violations, and housing matters. The court is overseen by the state Traffic Tribunal, which also handles appeals of Municipal Court rulings in Westerly and other municipalities in the state.
Lewiss, who has practiced law for 27 years, said he places an emphasis on clear communication while presiding over the court, working to make sure citizens who appear before him understand the court's process. Lewiss is a partner along with his father, Matthew L. Lewiss, in the Lewiss Law Associates law firm.
"I begin each session by explaining people's rights and the process that the court follows," Lewiss said.
In his law practice, Lewiss said, he focuses on real estate, estate planning and probate, business formation, contract law, and licensing issues.
While serving as Municipal Court judge, Lewiss said, he developed rules of decorum that the court follows. By remaining temperate, tolerant, and respectful, Lewiss said he has "ensured that all voices have been heard."
Lewiss served as a Democratic state representative for the 37th House District from 1999 to 2009.
Priolo has practiced law for 25 years, is a partner in the Law Offices of Americo Scungio in Westerly and holds a law degree from the New England School of Law. Born and raised in Westerly, Priolo has also taught as an adjunct professor of law at Mitchell College in New London.
"I do a lot of litigation, my practice is centered around litigation … that’s what I like best ... I really enjoyed being the judge because it gave me a different perspective," Priolo said, referring to her term as municipal court judge.
In some ways, Priolo said, the role of municipal judge is akin to serving "as an ambassador to the town." Like Lewiss, Priolo said she focused on having an even temper and listening while she served as judge.
"People want to know they have a voice ... and need to know the judge is fair and reasoned and has a good temperament."
The Town Council seeks applicants for the Municipal Court and Probate Court judgeships every two years following the local election. On Monday, the council voted to reappoint M. Linda Urso as probate judge, Todd J. Romano and Scott D. Levesque as assistant solicitors for zoning and planning respectively, Leo Manfred II as assistant solicitor for prosecutions, and Patrick J. Falcone Jr. as town sergeant.
The council did not conduct interviews for the probate judge, assistant solicitor, or town sergeant positions because no one other than the incumbent candidates applied for the positions.