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Connecticut

Medical records of Sandy Hook parents ended up in the wrong hands. A CT judge wants to know how.

A Connecticut judge has scheduled hearings beginning next week on whether to discipline the lawyers of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones in Texas and Connecticut for the possibly illegal disclosure of medical records of the parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre.

Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ordered the first hearing, on a date to be determined next week, to focus on what role, if any, Jones’ Connecticut lawyer, Norm Pattis, played in the disclosure of what she said could involve medical and psychiatric records of the relatives of victims who sued over Jones’ broadcast assertions that the massacre was a hoax.

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There will be a second hearing the following week on the role one of Jones’ Texas lawyers, F. Andino Reynal, played in any disclosure.

Pattis is defending Jones and his business, Free Speech Systems, in a defamation suit pending in Superior Court in Waterbury by the relatives. The trial, pending for four years, is set to start after Labor Day, but could be delayed by an 11th-hour bankruptcy filing by Jones.

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Last week in Texas, a jury ruled against Jones and awarded victims families who sued in state court there $49.3 million. Reynal, best known for running a small criminal defense practice, defended the suit.

From the little that was disclosed about the leaked material during a half-hour hearing Wednesday in Superior Court in Waterbury, it appeared that Pattis’ office transmitted confidential records to Reynall in July, at a time when Reynal was expected to play a role defending Jones in the Connecticut suit. Reynal withdrew from the Connecticut case within days.

From information made public in court in Texas late last week, it appears that Reynal’s Texas legal team inadvertently transferred the contents of Jones’ mobile telephone to the Sandy Hook relatives suing there. Among the contents of the phone were medical records.

“It appears that the medical and or psychiatric records of the plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuits were recently provided to unauthorized individuals, whether it was by attorney Pattis and or attorney Reynal,” Bellis said. “I am very concerned that there was improper release of highly confidential psychiatric, psychological or counseling records protected by court order and state and federal law.”

Pattis declined comment and Reynal could not be reached.

Jones is being sued in Connecticut by parents of first graders shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, relatives of murdered school staff and an FBI agent who responded to the tragedy. Their medical histories are important and closely guarded evidence in the case. To some degree, financial damages against Jones will be based on the degree to which they can show trauma they suffered from the shooting was exacerbated by Jones’s broadcast assertions that it was a hoax.

Bellis spoke almost exclusively at the brief teleconference hearing Wednesday. She repeated how “very concerned” she is by the apparent disclosure of the records, which she said she learned about through “headlines.”

She summoned the state judicial office responsible for disciplining lawyers to the hearing but said she will personally direct an inquiry into the disclosures and will impose punishment that could run from a reprimand to something more severe. She recited a long list of questions she wants answered, from who supervised transfer of the records to technical specifications of the files transmitted.

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“This issue is between the court and attorney Pattis and next week it will be between the court and attorney Reynal,” she said. “I know for a fact that the court always has jurisdiction over the conduct of attorneys that appear before it.”

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She said the hearings involving Pattis and Reynal mark the third and fourth time Jones’ defense lawyers have faced potential discipline in the four years the suit has been pending. She said a single disciplinary case is unusual and four in the course of one suit is “unprecedented.”

Delays in moving the suit forward have tested Bellis’ patience. Jones has repeatedly failed to appear for depositions and respond to orders to produce business records. Last spring, he stopped progress on the case by filing for bankruptcy protection for three of his companies that were originally targets of the Connecticut suit. He withdrew the bankruptcy filings after the victims dropped the companies as defendants.

Late last year Bellis took the extraordinary step of issuing a default order against Jones for failing to comply with court orders — effectively settling the suit in favor of the families and leaving only the question of damages against him and Free Speech Systems, the one business remaining in the suit, 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, triggering another potential postponement of the September trial.

When Bellis responded by ordering the trial to proceed against Jones alone, he had the suit transferred to the jurisdiction of the federal bankruptcy court in Hartford, putting the latest start date for the trial, Sept. 6, in jeopardy again.

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A disturbed, 20-year-old man in Newtown walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 with a semi-automatic rifle and killed 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman shot his mother to death at their home nearby before going to the school. He killed himself as police arrived.

Jones portrayed the shootings on his Infowars program as a hoax that involved actors and was intended to build pressure for gun control. He has since acknowledged the school shooting did occur.


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