Lawyer involved in Sandy Hook families’ records disclosure escapes discipline by CT court
A Superior Court judge has decided against imposing a recommended suspension or other professional discipline against one of Alex Jones’ Texas lawyers who was involved in the improper disclosure of confidential medical and other records belonging to the relatives of Sandy Hook shooting victims.
Andino Reynal, who defended Jones in a Sandy Hook defamation case in Texas last summer and was, for a brief period, expected to defend Jones in Connecticut, had faced a suspension of up to three months for the records sharing on the recommendation of the state judicial branch disciplinary office.
But Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis, who presided over the Connecticut trial and whose comprehensive confidentiality orders were violated by the records disclosure, said she was not sanctioning Reynal because of his remorse, his attempt to mitigate potential damage had the materials traveled beyond a small circle of lawyers and his cooperation with her investigation.
Earlier this month, Bellis imposed a six-month suspension from the practice of law on Jones’ Connecticut lawyer, Norm Pattis, who she has characterized as primarily responsible for the sharing of thousands of pages of materials on which she had placed under unusually restrictive confidentiality orders. Bellis said it was the second time Pattis violated the confidentiality order she imposed to protect Sandy Hook families from misuse of highly personal medical, psychiatric and financial records
The records never became public. But through what Bellis described as Pattis’ carelessness and his reckless violation of her orders, the materials contained initially on a portable computer hard drive, ended up briefly in the possession of three Texas lawyers, all of whom were involved in some fashion in the litigation there concerning Jones. All the Texas lawyers have said they did not look at the records, which were quickly destroyed.
Pattis mailed the computer hard drive last summer to one of Jones’ Texas bankruptcy lawyers at that lawyer’s request. The bankruptcy lawyer gave it to Reynal, who was defending Jones in a Texas court from a defamation suit brought by the parents of a Sandy Hook first grader killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 elementary school shootings.
Reynal said one of his clerks formatted the material on a computer server in a fashion that inadvertently made it accessible to Mark Bankston, the lawyer suing Jones in the Texas Sandy Hook case. Bankston was told that disclosure of the material to him was inadvertent, but revealed the disclosure anyway a week or so later in a dramatic courtroom exchange.
Bellis quickly opened an inquiry into the disclosure and asked the state office that regulates professional conduct by lawyers to run it. Brian Staines, the chief state disciplinary counsel, recommended a six-month suspension for Pattis and three months for Reynal.
Bellis imposed the Pattis suspension on Jan. 5 and ordered it to begin immediately. Last week, the state Appellate Court granted a request by Pattis that it be postponed to allow him to appeal.
Bellis and Pattis clashed often during the contentious, now five-year long, Connecticut defamation case that ended last fall in a potentially record-setting $1.4 billion verdict against Jones. Pattis has been sharply critical of her rulings and at one point asked for her disqualification.
When Bellis ordered Pattis into court last year to explain why he should not be disciplined, he asserted his fifth amendment right against self incrimination, saying he could have faced a criminal violation for improper disclosure of medical records.
Reynal, in contrast, flew from Texas to Connecticut, cooperated and expressed his embarrassment over the release — something Bellis said was a factor in her decision not to impose a suspension.
Reynal did not escape completely: If he appears in the future as a visiting lawyer in Connecticut, he must notify the court of her decision that his involvement in the records sharing violated the rules of professional legal conduct involving competence and the safeguarding of records.