April 11, 2014 09:18PM
By ERIKA NIEDOWSKI
PROVIDENCE (AP) — The release of depositions in the 38 Studios lawsuit to two state legislative panels and the public would jeopardize the defendants’ right to a fair trial, a defense lawyer in the case argued Friday before a Rhode Island judge.
An attorney for Robert Stolzman, a former lawyer to the Economic Development Corp., said the depositions should be kept confidential because the public isn’t entitled to records that haven’t yet been filed with the court. The depositions, or witness testimony taken by lawyers in the case, have generated some 4,000 pages to date.
“The atmosphere in this case, to put it mildly, has really been a public frenzy,” attorney William Dolan said, characterizing information in the public realm so far as “one-sided” and “uninformed.”
The EDC filed suit against Stolzman and 13 others after the collapse of former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video game company.
In 2010, the agency approved a $75 million loan guarantee for 38 Studios, and the state is now responsible for some $90 million related to the deal. The lawsuit alleges the defendants misled the EDC board into approving the transaction — accusations the defendants deny.
Dolan argued on behalf of those defendants seeking to keep the documents sealed. He asked Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein to delay release of the records until all the depositions are complete if the court does decide to make them public. Silverstein did not rule during the hearing.
The legislative committees and The Providence Journal requested the depositions under public records law.
Max Wistow, an attorney for the EDC, argued for their release, saying a blanket request for confidentiality was “totally unreasonable.” He said that while the documents are not records of the court, they are records of a public agency, the EDC, making them subject to release.
House Oversight attorney Charles Knowles also argued for the documents’ release. He said the committee wants the depositions as part of its review of the circumstances surrounding the deal. He said the panel’s aim is to protect the public interest and prevent another similar debacle.
“It will be done in a fair and judicious manner,” he said.
But Dolan argued that airing the depositions before a legislative committee would not provide a full and accurate picture, and said the legislative forum provides no judicial protections, such as the right to cross-examine witnesses.
“It’s a unilateral process,” Dolan said. “It’s not fair. It will unfairly taint the jury pool if that’s not been done already.”
Rep. Karen MacBeth, who attended the court hearing, held her first meeting Thursday as the new House Oversight chair. Panel members began compiling a list of witnesses they would like to testify either voluntarily or, as a last resort, by way of subpoena. The list includes Schilling; former Republican Gov. Don Carcieri; former EDC Executive Director Keith Stokes; and ex-Speaker Gordon Fox.
MacBeth, D-Cumberland, said after Friday’s hearing that if the public has been uninformed, as Dolan suggested, the release of the depositions will help.
“Well, then, make us more informed,” she said. “That is all we want — a fair public hearing.”