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McKee says he has no plans to replace ailing children’s lawyer,

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PROVIDENCE — Gov. Dan McKee sought Thursday to dispel any “disgusting” notion that he was seeking to replace children’s attorney Jennifer Griffith while she was on sick leave.

McKee was responding to a chain of events that began Wednesday when the Rhode Island Bar Association, at the request of the governor’s office, emailed its 6,000 members seeking attorneys interested in serving on a committee search for a possible new lawyer. .

The timing of the email was criticized as Griffith was hospitalized and on sick leave for an undisclosed situation when released. A lawmaker, a lawyer who received it, called the governor “heartless”.

McKee called a press conference and criticized the Providence Journal.

A story in the Journal’s print edition on Thursday, and an early version of the story online, omitted that the search committee process was required by law after a children’s advocate completed a five-year term.

And the governor pointed out that the process of forming the search committee began before Griffith was first hospitalized on July 18.

“Anyone who says we are trying to replace the child advocate who is on sick leave is completely wrong,” the governor said.

In fact, if a search committee ultimately asks for her recommendation, McKee said, “I would recommend Jennifer for another five years.”

“Jennifer is a strong advocate for our state’s children and I think she does a great job.”

Griffith was first appointed by former Governor Gina Raimondo in March 2016 and her term actually expired about 16 months ago.

McKee said he did not move immediately to initiate the required search process that could lead to Griffith’s reappointment as he had just taken office.

“I have entered the most serious state of emergency this state has ever seen,” he said, with more people dying or hospitalized from COVID 19 than “virtually anywhere in the country.”

The state also faced “an economy that we weren’t sure would ever reopen in our lifetimes.”

Also, he said, people were worried about their jobs and their children not going to school because of the COVID crisis.

“I think reasonable people would understand why,” he didn’t budge sooner, he said, especially since the state had someone of Griffith’s caliber willing to stay on the job until that other priorities are met.

McKee said he and an aide met with Griffith on Oct. 4 where she asked to be reappointed for another five-year term.

McKee said he was unaware that Griffith had suffered a medical event and was on sick leave until it was reported Monday.

His spokesman, Matt Sheaff, said earlier Thursday that no one in the governor’s office was aware of Griffith’s condition when he emailed the Law Society on July 21 seeking members of the research committee.

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On Wednesday evening, hours after the Bar Association’s email was released, drawing criticism, the governor’s office said it was postponing the formation of the search committee until further notice.

Email Tom Mooney at: [email protected]