Judge denies release of 38 Studios secret grand jury records
A Superior Court judge has denied Gov. Gina Raimondo's petition for the release of 38 Studios grand jury documents connected with the investigation of the video game startup.
Gov. Raimondo petitioned the court to release the secret grand jury records in the criminal investigation into the state's $75 million deal with 38 Studios saying her petition was in the public's interest, but the judge did not agree.
Superior Court Judge Alice B. Gibney denied Raimondo's petition, laying out the details in a 24-page decision.
Gibney writes that her decision was based on the fact that the civil suit is complete and that the disclosure of the material would hinder the "free and untrammeled flow of information and compromise the long-standing history of grand jury secrecy."
"This Court must deny the Petitioner’s request for disclosure of 38 Studios grand jury documents," Gibney wrote in her decision. "This Court finds that the Petitioner has not met her burden of demonstrating that the need for disclosure outweighs the need for secrecy."
Gov. Raimondo is considering her options and an appeal to the Supreme Court is one option.
“While I respect the court’s decision, I am disappointed with today’s ruling," Gov. Raimondo said in a statement to NBC 10 News. "I have asked my legal team to review our options.”
In her decision, Gibneyalso said Gov. Raimondo was not a party to the original investigation, that she does not need the materials for any particularized reason and that the targets of the investigation were exonerated. The state police and the attorney general announced in August that no criminal charges would be brought in the case after the four-year investigation into the state's financing of the failed 38 Studios. Raimondo at that time told NBC 10 News that investigation was sloppier than it should have been.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who in February said he considered the criminal investigation in 38 Studios closed, agreed with Gibney's decision saying, "While the subject of this case was 38 Studios, at its core it was about the integrity of the grand jury process and its role within the administration of justice. The Superior Court’s decision upholds the rule of law."
Gov. Raimondo filed the petition with the argument that the public has the right to know what happened in the 38 Studios debacle, but that's not enough reason, according to the judge. "Allowing public clamor alone to justify disclosure would cause the exception to swallow the rule; namely, releasing documents based on mere public interest in grand jury proceedings would entirely defeat the purpose, and role, of the grand jury."
The governor was not the only person asking for the release of documents in the public's interest. Five groups that promote open government last year asked the Rhode Island's attorney general and the state police to release documents relating to the 38 Studios investigation. Access RI, the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters and the New England First Amendment Coalition wanted the details related to the probe released saying there is "extraordinarily strong public interest" in the grand jury process.
And now they are disappointed, said Justin Silverman with the New England First Amendment Coalition and contributor to the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard Law School.
"The decision is incredibly disappointing and a blow to the public's right to know in Rhode Island." Silverman said. "We had hoped for more transparency about 38 Studios but instead we're just facing more secrecy, more of the same."
A letter from the group to the attorney general and the state police last year said, "The disaster known as 38 Studios happened because of a deeply ingrained culture of secrecy in this state. The official state investigation into that disaster should not perpetuate that culture."
Laura Levin, president of AccessRI, a non-profit focused on freedom of information, also spoke out against the court's decision saying it was "disappointed and concerned" over the outcome.
"We agree with Governor Gina Raimondo that the records and testimony are of paramount interest and should be opened for scrutiny so that the public can understand the state’s investigation of the $75-million publicly financed bond used to lure Red Sox great Curt Schilling’s 38 Studios video-game company to Rhode Island," Levin wrote in a statement. "The grand jury records relating to one of the biggest and most publicized taxpayer-subsidized corporate failures in the state should be open for public scrutiny.
" Their disclosure far outweighs the need to protect the members of the grand jury, the witnesses, and others involved in the proceedings," she added.