Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin announced that he has filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief today with the Supreme Court of the United States asking the high court to review and reverse the First Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Congregation Jeshuat Israel v. Congregation Shearith Israel, a case involving ownership of Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.
Touro Synagogue is the oldest synagogue in the United States dating back to the mid-1700s and has been visited by many distinguished citizens ranging from President George Washington to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan.
In 2016, the District Court for the District of Rhode Island reviewed the long history of Touro Synagogue and concluded that the Synagogue was held in a charitable trust for the benefit of the Newport Jewish community. On appeal, the First Circuit Court of Appeals praised Judge McConnell's "conscientious and exhaustive historical analysis," yet reversed the District Court and held that Congregation Shearith Israel in New York owned Touro Synagogue free of any charitable trust obligations to Congregation Jeshuat Israel.
In asking the United States Supreme Court to review this case, Attorney General Kilmartin expressed that "we remain deeply disappointed in the Court of Appeals' ruling."
"Touro Synagogue represents an important piece of Rhode Island history and as Judge McConnell properly determined in an exhaustive decision, the Synagogue should be held in a charitable trust with the Newport Jewish congregation as the beneficiary," Kilmartin added.
The amicus brief argues that the Court of Appeals committed a legal error by not following or even referencing any Rhode Island law on charitable trusts, which is binding on a federal court in this type of case.
In the amicus brief, Attorney General Kilmartin points out that Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson dissented from the Court of Appeals' decision not to re-hear this case and expressed her concern that the Court of Appeals' decision may have been in error and "completely omitted any discussion of Rhode Island's extensive case law pertaining to charitable trusts."
The Office of Attorney General is entrusted with representing the public interest and overseeing charitable trust matters in Rhode Island. The amicus brief was prepared by Assistant Attorney General Michael W. Field and Special Assistant Attorney General Andrea Shea.