Reardon Victims Argue St. Francis Withheld Documents, Tried to Sabotage Lawsuits — Hospital’s Lawyers Vigorously Deny Any Misconduct
July 26, 2011
Hartford Courant by EDMUND H. MAHONY
9:25 PM EDT, July 26, 2011
WATERBURY —A judge gave no indication when he will issue a decision after hearing hours of back-and-forth argument Tuesday over whether St. Francis Hospital and its lawyers improperly withheld evidence sought by abuse victims of former hospital endocrinologist Dr. George Reardon.
In a related development, a victim’s lawyer pushing for misconduct sanctions said that St. Francis gave him copies late Monday of the hospital’s medical staff bylaws for eight different years from the early 1960s to early 1980s.
Even before they turned up in Superior Court Tuesday afternoon, the medical staff bylaws were at the center of efforts by Reardon victims to have the hospital and its law firm disciplined for misconduct.
Victim attorney of Tremont Sheldon P.C. argued Tuesday that St. Francis effectively tried to sabotage lawsuits against the hospital by failing to comply with a legal obligation to respond to victims’ requests for documents and records in its possession. He made the medical staff bylaws Exhibit A, literally, in his argument.
The medical staff bylaws, although worded differently in various years, establish procedures at the hospital for the review of research by its medical staff. Reardon’s victims, who are suing the hospital for negligence, contend that he would have been stopped had the hospital complied with its own policy and reviewed the sham growth study the doctor used as a pretext to sexually abuse children.
“The significance of the bylaws is why they were not provided,” Attorney argued. “They strike at the heart of the hospital’s defense.”
Lawyers for Day Pitney, the hospital’s law firm, vigorously denied any misbehavior. Hospital attorney James H. Rotondo said the hospital has complied consistently with the legal rules that compel parties to lawsuits to make good faith efforts to produce internal documents requested by the plaintiffs.
Rotondo said that Attorney and lawyers for other Reardon victims never specifically asked St. Francis for bylaws of the hospital medical staff. Rather, Rotondo said, the victims asked for hospital bylaws, a different category of document that applies to the hospital as a corporate entity.
“There is a well recognized distinction between the hospital and its medical staff,” Rotondo said. “We should not be required to speculate on what they are asking for in discovery.”
The hospital legal team said, essentially, that the victims got what they asked for in the legal process known as discovery. During discovery, a party to a suit can demand that the opposing party produce a document. The party receiving the demand has a legal obligation to make a good faith effort to determine whether the document exists and, if so, to produce it.
Often, parties requesting a document from an opponent are firing in the dark. Since they don’t know specifically what exists, they don’t know specifically what to ask for. That was an issue in the argument over sanctions before Judge Dan Shaban.
The hospital produced eight years of medical staff bylaws late Monday in response to a specifically worded subpoena. Attorney accused the hospital of using “tortured” logic in the past to deny the victims records it knew they wanted. He complained the hospital delayed turning over the records until it was too late for him to make use of them.
Attorney’s client, known in court as Tim Doe 1, was the second Reardon victim to bring suit to trial, and a jury awarded him $2.75 million on July 8. Attorney said he would have prepared the case differently if St. Francis had produced the medical staff bylaws earlier. Rotondo said Attorney won without the bylaws so his argument is moot.
Attorney also asked that St. Francis and its lawyers be sanctioned for violating a court order that prohibits the parties from, in most cases, identifying the victims. Attorney said St. Francis identified the real name of his client to business associates when serving a subpoena.
The hospital lawyers denied the allegation.
Shaban will rule on both issues.
Sanctions Sought – Connecticut Law Tribune