The state judicial office that prosecutes lawyer misconduct wants attorney Norman Pattis suspended from the practice for six months for what appears to have been the inadvertent disclosure of confidential medical and psychiatric records of relatives of the Sandy Hook families who now have won $1.4 billion in damages from his client, Infowars broadcaster Alex Jones.
The records in question are about 4,000 pages of medical records — records which were to have been protected by an unusually stringent court order — provided to Pattis as part of the mutual exchange of information between the parties in the months leading to the trial, which began in September.
The closely guarded records, which reflect medical, psychiatric and counseling involving families who had experienced the violent murders of 5- and 6-year-old children, were among nearly 400,000 pages of materials turned over to Jones. Most if not all the records were put on a portable computer hard drive in the possession of Pattis’ law office.
According to testimony in court and a comprehensive memo filed in Superior Court late Wednesday by attorney Brian Staines, of the state Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, Pattis’ careless decision to share the material with a fellow Jones lawyer in Texas last summer set in motion a chain of events that sent the material to lawyers who should not have been permitted access.
Pattis’ office transferred the hard drive, without warning of its sensitive content, to one of Jones’ Texas bankruptcy lawyers. The bankruptcy lawyer transferred the drive to another of Jones’ Texas lawyers, Andino Reynal, who was defending Jones in a Texas suit by the parents of a murdered Sandy Hook first grader. Reynal has admitted that one of his employees accidentally made the protected medical material available to the Texas lawyer representing the Sandy Hook parents who, weeks later, won $50 million in their Texas suit.
“The fact that the while external hard drive data that was transferred from Pattis to Lee and then from Lee to Reynal’s internal server contained Connecticut plaintiffs’ medical information and depositions that were designated ‘highly confidential attorneys eyes only’ has been irrefutably established,” Staines wrote.
Staines also is recommending that Reynal, who practices law in Texas, be suspended from working in Connecticut for three months.
Staines was appointed by Superior Court Barbara Bellis, who presided over the suit against Jones in Connecticut, to determine whether the acts by Pattis and Reynal merit discipline as violations of the state code of conduct for lawyers. Staines concluded that Pattis violated five rules of conduct, including those involving competence and fairness, as well as a state law that protects medical records.
The proposed punishments are recommendations for Bellis, who ultimately will decide what if any discipline to impose.
Pattis declined to discuss the matters. Reynal could not be reached.
The disclosure of the records took place in the context of prolonged and remarkably bitter litigation between Jones and those suing him in Connecticut, 14 relatives of Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victims and an FBI agent who was part of the early law enforcement response.
The families sued Jones and his principal business claiming he used his influential broadcast platforms to spread the false conspiracy claim that the Sandy Hook massacre never happened, but was a hoax perpetrated by an evil global cabal set on outlawing gun ownership. In the suit and over weeks of gripping testimony, family members described how their lives were ruined by a decade of threats, harassment and torment by complete strangers who subscribe to Jones’ broadcast lies.
Bellis issued an order placing limits on dissemination of the medical and psychiatric records in large part because of the credible arguments of the families that Jones’ past attacks on them suggested he could improperly and illegally use the material to further attack them.
The trial ended with a $1.4 billion verdict — nearly $1 billion in compensatory damages and another $473 million in punitive damages awarded by Bellis.
“In the present matter it cannot be disputed that this litigation was one of the most significant litigations pending in Connecticut,” Stains wrote.
“Specifically, the Connecticut plaintiffs’ discovery, to which Pattis was entrusted, required the utmost care and attention as inappropriate disclosure would have caused irreparable harm. Pattis, being aware of the protective order, his possession of highly confidential-attorney eyes only medical reports, failed to provide even the minimal amount of care when instructing his associate to transfer all of this discovery to attorney Lee, an unauthorized recipient. This neglect is further compounded by the fact that Pattis failed to take appropriate steps to secure the information once he learned of the disclosure.”