WATERBURY, Conn. — Text messages and email correspondence about the transfer of confidential medical records were produced in court this week at an inquiry by the judge presiding over the Alex Jones defamation trial into how, or even if the highly personal records were improperly disclosed by Jones’ lawyers.
The inquiry Wednesday was postponed without definitive answers and will continue next week. But it became clear at the hearing convened by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis that Jones’ Connecticut lawyer, Norm Pattis, provided a digital version of a case “file” to one or perhaps two of Jones’ Texas lawyers and the records were apparently further disseminated at that point.
At issue are highly confidential, legally protected medical and psychiatric records of the parents and other relatives of Sandy Hook school shooting victims who are suing Jones for millions of dollars in Connecticut. They claim they were defamed and suffered emotionally as a result of the conspiracy theorist’s repeated broadcast assertions that the December 2012 massacre was a hoax created to generate support for gun control.
Nothing has become public so far that suggests medical or other personal records were disclosed beyond the lawyers representing Jones and the victims suing him in state and federal courts in Texas and Connecticut.
Concern that protected records fell into the wrong hands arose in Texas on July 24, when one of Jones’ Texas lawyers, F. Andino Reynal, transmitted digital copies of case records to another Texas lawyer representing two Sandy Hook parents who sued Jones in state court there.
When attorney Christopher Mattei, who represents those suing Jones in the Connecticut courts, learned of the possible improper disclosure, he began demanding answers.
“This would be alarming under any circumstances,” Mattei wrote in an email to Pattis, “but particularly so in light of Mr. Jones’ long pattern of attacking our clients, counsel, and the judges presiding over these cases.”
Bellis had spent months presiding over extended negotiations that established a complicated confidentiality order dictating how personal records that are evidence in the suit are to be protected and shared. She said she learned of a possible improper disclosure in Texas from news accounts and scheduled hearings almost immediately to determine whether Pattis and Reynal are responsible.
When the hearing resumes on July 25, both are expected to be called to testify. Should Bellis decide either lawyer violated her order, they could be subject to court-imposed discipline. She appointed Brian Staines, who prosecutes attorney misconduct for the state judiciary, to direct the inquiry.
The issue of mishandling protected records has become a sideshow in four years of bitter litigation associated with defamation suits against Jones. Bellis said earlier this month that her inquiry into possible discipline against Pattis and Reynal mark the third and fourth times she has made misconduct complaints against Jones’ lawyers.
Late last year she took the extraordinary step of issuing a default order against Jones in the Connecticut suit for failing to comply with court orders — effectively settling the suit in favor of the families and leaving only the question of damages against Jones unresolved. A judge in Texas issued the same ruling in response to Jones’ apparent efforts to stall the case in that state.
In late July, Jones put Free Speech Systems, the company behind his Infowars internet site, into federal bankruptcy in Houston, knowing it would delay the Connecticut trial as Bellis was beginning jury selection. Late last week, a Connecticut bankruptcy judge ruled that the trial can continue and the selection of a jury to decide the damage award against Jones is to resume Thursday.
The Texas jury awarded the families suing him there $49 million in damages, at about the same time concerns were being expressed about mishandled medical records.
Most of the testimony in court Wednesday turned on text message and email exchanges between Mattei and the Jones lawyers after questions arose about improper disclosure of documents.
Mattei said he learned on July 24 that Reynal had “produced” or disclosed documents to a lawyer who represented the Sandy Hook parents who sued in Texas. The lawyer had requested the case records and Reynal emailed him a directory of files.
“My understanding at the time was that the folder names indicated it was stuff that shouldn’t have been produced, but was produced,” Mattei testified Wednesday.
A little more than a week later, on Aug. 3, Mattei said he received two text messages from Pattis, copies of which were introduced as evidence Wednesday.
“Chris,” the first text message said. “Give me a call. I learned moments ago that my office may have violated protective order.”
About six hours later, Pattis texted: “So Texas counsel mistakenly turned over stuff to Texas.”
The next day, on Aug. 4, Mattei emailed Pattis that his clients “are likely to seek relief in the various courts” for any improper disclosure and he demanded detailed information about how, to whom and under what circumstances the records were transmitted.
Pattis replied by email that he gave records to Reynal and Kyung Lee, a bankruptcy lawyer representing Jones.
“I directed an associate to send out files to the two attorneys who requested them to defend Alex,” Pattis wrote. “I did not direct the associate to withhold the plaintiffs’ information. If that is an error, responsibility falls on my shoulders.”
Two days later, on Aug. 6, Lee prepared an affidavit which raises the possibility that it was he, not Pattis, who provided records to Reynal.
Lee said he asked Pattis for case files earlier this year after Jones retained him to handle bankruptcy filings. He said Pattis responded by sending him a computer disc early in May. Lee said he never looked to see what was on the disc because the bankruptcy filings on which he was working were withdrawn and he had no need for the information.
He said he turned the files over unseen to Reynal at Reynal’s request.
“I did not share the contents of that disc with anyone until I was asked by Mr. Andino Reynal’s law firm to provide them with the disc,” Lee said in the affidavit.
Lee said Reynal was handed the disc sometime before June 15, because on that day he received an email from Pattis seeking its return.
“I replied that I had handed the external disc to Mr. Reynal,” Lee said in the affidavit.
When Reynal and Lee testify next week they will be asked to clarify how Reynal got the records and from whom. Pattis also is expected to testify.