The Call reports that $9,806 of the $23,135 collected to defend the Woonsocket cross against a possible lawsuit by the FFRF has already been spent, even though there is technically no legal case to defend against.
The cross gained statewide and even national attention when an unknown Woonsocket resident asked the FFRF to look into the constitutionality of the cross’s presence in the parking lot of a Woonsocket fire station. A letter from the FFRF sent to then-Mayor Leo Fontaine’s office sparked outrage among some in the community.
Fontaine, who during his tenure as Mayor did almost nothing to alleviate the financial hardships facing Woonsocket residents, used the FFRF letter to galvanize supporters around an issue he thought he could win. Staking his political future on this idea, Fontaine worked to make the Woonsocket Cross a cause célèbre among the mostly Catholic residents of of the city. A huge rally was held, hosted by John DePetro of all people, that presented Bishop Thomas Tobin and the sorely out of place Reverend Donald Anderson speaking out in defense of the cross.
Money was raised to defend the cross against the possible lawsuit. A local lumber company started producing and selling miniature white crosses to display on front lawns. Displaying a cross demonstrated that you were on the “right” side of the issue. Not displaying a cross on your lawn might arouse suspicion: Is that the home of the unknown person who started this kerfuffle by contacting the FFRF in the first place?
Christmas ornaments, emblazoned with an image of the cross, were sold out of Woonsocket City Hall. This money, along with donations from all over the country, went into a pool to be used to defend the cross in the event that the FFRF filed suit.
Joseph Larisa, Jr. is the lawyer who was well paid, ($170 an hour for 58 hours of work: How many people in struggling Woonsocket are paid that well?) to essentially research the history of the cross and prepare some sort of “What if?” legal scenario in the event of a lawsuit. (I did a decent amount of historical research into the cross for free over the course of a few visits to the Woonsocket Library. I also documented the existence of a host of other forgotten monuments and places in Woonsocket dedicated to fallen servicemen, no of which are considered as special as the one site bearing a huge white cross.)
As new Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt has pointed out, “there had been offers from other lawyers at the time to provide legal counsel to the defense at no cost.” Apparently “fiscally conservative” Mayor Fontaine decided to pay nearly $10,000 for legal services he could have received for free.
So where is all this research into the history of the Woonsocket Cross? A lot of it went into the production of a 15 minute movie Mayor Fontaine made. One gets the impression that being the mayor of a financially struggling city isn’t all that difficult, or at least provides plenty of down time to play with Final Cut Pro. Mayor Fontaine should probably have secured the rights to the Saving Private Ryan theme music he “borrowed” in creating his movie masterpiece, but doing that would probably have cost the city the rest of its defense fund.
Who could have imagined that a ginned up controversy in defense of an unconstitutional monument would result in well meaning people from a struggling community lining the pockets of an already well-to-do lawyer?
In the meantime, people can sit back and enjoy what their $10,000 has bought them: