Amended bill would make Jeremiah pay for plate
Original bill would have given the retired judge an emeritus license plate at no charge
BY TRACY BRETON
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
PROVIDENCE — If retired Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. gets a special emeritus license plate for his private passenger car, it’s not going to be for free.
On Thursday afternoon the House Committee on Municipal Government convened a hearing on a bill sponsored by Rep. Helio Melo, D-East Providence, to give Jeremiah a “chief judge emeritus” plate “without an additional registration charge,” Melo submitted in an amendment. The bill now calls for Jeremiah to pay the same charge that currently applies to vanity plates. Vanity plates, depending on design, can cost a driver up to $86.50 in addition to whatever they pay as an annual registration fee to drive a specific vehicle.
The only person who came to speak on the bill was lobbyist and Harvard student Nicholas Alahverdian, who told the members of the committee that he felt “this [bill] is currently against the best interests of the state.” Alahverdian identified himself as a former ward of the state. Among other things, he faulted Jeremiah for the way he ran the Truancy Court he created — a court now the subject of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU. “He is not deserving of this honor,” he said of the emeritus plate.
Alahverdian is a former State House page and House legislative aide who spent his youth as a ward of the state. He is suing the Rhode Island Department of Children, Youth and Families, Jeremiah and others in United States District Court alleging that he suffered years of abuse while in state care. Alahverdian alleges that beginning in 2002, he was put in a series of “night-to-night placements” at temporary shelters in Rhode Island where he says he was repeatedly assaulted, physically and sexually, by employees and clients. He was 14 at the time.
Alahverdian says he testified before legislative committees about the alleged abuse and afterward was transferred to residential facilities in Florida and Nebraska where he claims he was further abused and neglected. He was eventually returned to Rhode Island and treated for two weeks at Bradley Hospital, the suit says, before being released to independent living.
Alahverdian told the committee members Thursday night that since Jeremiah left the helm of the Family Court, there have been fewer out-of-state placements of children.
Melo’s original bill would have given the emeritus plate to Jeremiah at no additional registration charge. But now, if he gets an emeritus plate, he’d have to pay for it under the newly submitted amendment.
Others who currently have emeritus plates may find themselves in the same boat.
Larry Berman, spokesman for the House, told The Providence Journal that Melo would introduce a bill next Tuesday that would require anyone with a free emeritus plate to start paying the vanity-plate rate whenever it’s renewed. Currently, three retired judges have such plates, as do some former political leaders, a few former police chiefs, former Adjutant Gen. Reginald A. Centracchio and two widows of former police officers.
The House Committee on Municipal Government took testimony on the Jeremiah bill — which Melo says he sponsored as a favor to the Jeremiah family, in honor of the judge’s long service to the court — but held the bill for further study. It could choose to vote on it at a later date or take no action on it at all.
A bill was submitted last year to give Jeremiah a free emeritus plate “without any registration fee or service charge.” It was introduced on the last day of the session by Representatives Stephen R. Ucci, D-Cranston, and Melo. It passed in the House by a 62-to-4 vote, but was never voted on in the Senate, Berman said.