St. Francis Challenges Punishment for Withholding Documents – Cites Work and Expense to Comply; Lawyer for Reardon Victim Says Hospital “Beyond Arrogant”

August 5, 2011

By Edmund Mahony

The Hartford Courant

6:38 PM EDT, August 5, 2011

St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center is challenging part of the punishment imposed on it earlier this week for withholding records, calling the court-ordered sanction an unnecessary and overly broad measure that will require an extraordinary amount of work and result in “monumental” expense.

Superior Court Judge Dan Shaban ordered the sanction, or punishment, on Monday after one of the abuse victims of former hospital endocrinologist Dr. George Reardon accused St. Francis of violating an earlier order when it failed to provide all of the victims, in response to their request, with copies of hospital bylaws pertaining to research by medical staff.

The exchange of accusations over the bylaws is the latest blow-up in years of sometimes bitter litigation involving St. Francis and the Reardon victims, who are suing the hospital over their sexual abuse by Reardon decades ago when they were children.

The victims claim that the hospital’s failure to supervise Reardon allowed him to use a decades-long study of child growth patterns as a pretext to abuse and take pornographic photographs of hundreds of children from the early 1960s to the early 1990s.

The victims assert that the bylaws, a complete set of which were not turned over until after the first two abuse trials, established review standards for staff research that could have exposed and ended Reardon’s abuse had the hospital complied with them.

St. Francis, through its lawyers at the Hartford office of Day Pitney, has asked Shaban for an opportunity to reargue a portion of the sanctions order that requires the hospital over the next month to review every single request for records made by the Reardon victims since the legal process known as discovery began three years ago.

Between 2008 and 2010, St. Francis said it produced 15,922 pages of non-medical records and 25,648 pages of medical records in response to about 150 requests for information by the victims.

The hospital, in legal papers, questioned whether it can repeat the process in the month required by Shaban. In any event, the hospital’s lawyers wrote in the papers that such a review would require an extraordinary effort and “will impose a monumental cost on St. Francis.”

The hospital’s lawyers also said such a full review is unnecessary because only medical staff bylaws, among tens of thousands of pages of unrelated records, are in dispute. And the lawyers said the victims never asked for such a review when pressing for sanctions.

The sanctions motion was brought by Bridgeport attorney of Tremont Sheldon P.C., who learned of the existence of the medical staff bylaws in June while trying a suit by a Reardon victim known in court as Tim Doe 1. It was the second abuse suit to go to trial and Doe ultimately won $2.75 million from the jury.

Attorney asked Shaban to instruct the jury that St. Francis had improperly withheld records. When Shaban denied the request for a jury instruction, Attorney argued on Aug. 1 — after the verdict had been returned — that the law firm Day Pitney has an ongoing obligation to comply with discovery and should be disqualified from continuing to represent St. Francis.

In legal papers he filed Friday, Attorney opposed the attempt by St. Francis to reargue the order.

“St. Francis Hospital takes umbrage in its motion to reargue at being forced to make sure it has done what it is supposed to have done,” Attorney wrote. “The position of the hospital is beyond arrogant. … Such a complaint to the court, particularly from a party that has just been sanctioned by the court for noncompliance with the rules of discovery, is most bold.”

Attorney complained that St. Francis has shown “a pattern of not producing documents.” He said he has been forced to obtain hospital documents from the Archdiocese of Hartford and, in another case, through a freedom of information request from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In the discovery process, the victims have the right to demand copies of hospital records pertaining to a variety of subjects and the hospital has a good-faith obligation to provide those records. The hospital was represented by a different law firm, Boston-based Bingham McCutchen, when the disputed medical staff bylaws were requested in January 2010. Day Pitney began representing St. Francis in June 2010.

St. Francis, through Day Pitney, claims it had no obligation to turn over medical staff bylaws to victims because the victims never specifically demanded them. Rather, the hospital lawyers said the victims asked for general bylaws of the hospital and those were turned over. The general bylaws have nothing to do with the supervision of medical research.

The victims claim the intent of their records request was clear and the hospital engaged in legal hair-splitting when it provided copies of the general bylaws, as opposed to medical staff bylaws.

The actual request made by the victims was for “copies of the bylaws of St. Francis Hospital with respect to any physician contemplating and conducting medical research.” After discussion with the hospital’s then-lawyers, the request was revised to read “this document request seeks copies of the bylaws of the hospital in general (i.e., not for each individual department or office, if they in fact exist) containing protocols or procedures that physicians employed by St. Francis must follow when conducting medical research.”

Related Links

– Legal Services – Sexual Abuse
– Summary of Dr. George Reardon Child Sex Abuse Case