Why Neronha won’t stop posting on X even after judge’s order
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha is shown at his offices on South Main Street in Providence. (Michael Salerno/Rhode Island Current)
Less than a day after a state Superior Court judge ordered him to appear for a hearing about something he posted on X, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha was at it again.
Veterans Day, football and First Amendment rights were among the topics Neronha sounded off about over the weekend, doubling down on his frequent use of social media – even after a Nov. 8 post rubbed Judge Daniel A. Procaccini the wrong way.
Procaccini on Friday ordered Neronha to appear in court on Dec. 5 based on what Neronha posted about a case involving a Barrington oral surgeon accused of verbally attacking his Muslim neighbor with racial slurs. State prosecutors had tried unsuccessfully to charge Gordon with a hate crime, which could have led to a longer sentence. Procaccini presided over the appeal by Dr. Richard Gordon, and ultimately acquitted him on misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and simple assault.
Before Procaccini issued the ruling, Neronha posted on X a link to a Providence Journal story about the case, followed by a series of posts:
“Random thought before 8 am bell rings: in federal system, the prosecution must agree to a jury-waived trial in addition to the defendant,” Neronha wrote on Nov. 8. “In state system, only the defendant must agree. That’s a real weakness for our state system – & should be changed. Victims deserve justice too.”
The state court system now lets defendants opt for bench trials without asking the prosecution.
“When some judges never oversee a jury trial, it’s not a coincidence,” Neronha wrote.
Neronha: ‘No connection’
Neronha in an interview on Monday insisted there was no connection between the judge’s order and his firestorm of social media activity that followed. Including the post he shared the day after the court order, inviting followers to “mute” him if they don’t like what he is posting.
Twitter friends and followers: when I’m exercising my First Amendment right and you don’t like my observations – there’s always that mute button. I find it useful from time to time.
— Peter Neronha (@PeterNeronha) November 11, 2023
“Look, there’s a lot of Twitter bullies out there,” Neronha said Monday. “If you’re talking about people who tell me to shut my mouth, if they are a political player, they should expect to get a response. There’s no connection with what this judge asked me to do.”
Referring back to the posts on the day of closing arguments on Gordon’s case, Neronha said his statements were about policy, not a personal attack on Procaccini.
“I’ve always gotten along with him,” he said of Procaccini, who was appointed to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Lincoln Almond in 2001. “Federal practice is a better practice, regardless of whatever judge is settling the case. That’s a policy position I’ve taken and you’re going to see follow up on that in the next General Assembly session.”
It’s hardly the first time Neronha’s social media presence has raised eyebrows. He used the platform to advocate for more funding for his department in the fiscal 2024 budget, criticizing Gov. Dan McKee for not originally including the money he requested – though he eventually got at least some of the extra funding he wanted. He’s taken shots at his Republican opponent in the 2022 attorney general’s race, and again at McKee for his former chief of staff, who resigned amid criticism after he used his position to sway the outcome of a family land deal.
This weekend, Neronha got into a back-and-forth with Anthony D’Ellena, who describes himself as a field organizer for the Rhode Island Republican Party and vice-chairman of the Narragansett Republican Town Committee.
The two traded barbs over D’Ellena’s self-described organizing position, and whether their posts were influenced by alcohol.
“You would think the attorney general would have listened by now,” D’Ellena said of Neronha on Monday. “You would think someone would take his phone away at night.”
D’Ellena also said Neronha’s social media was not appropriate.
“He’s been nasty to me,” D’Ellena said.
Unlike many top officials across Rhode Island and the nation, Neronha’s posts on social media are entirely his own; there’s no communications aide crafting them on his behalf.
“That’s not how I roll,” Neronha said on Monday. “I am not like other politicians. And I am, for the most part, polite.”
He has no regrets over his posts, nor does he plan to tone it down anytime soon, he said.
As for his upcoming court appearance, he’s not sweating it.
“I’ve been called before a lot of judges over my 25-year career,” Neronha said. “Certainly, I have been called before a judge over things I have said and Twitter is just another form of communication. I am not sure what’s on his mind but I will hear more then.”
Robert Corrente, an attorney for Gordon, declined to comment on Neronha’s social media activity because of the upcoming court appearance.
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