Judge won't sanction Texas lawyer for missteps after mistaken disclosure of info about Sandy Hook families
F. Andino Reynal, a lawyer for Infowars founder Alex Jones, answers questions in the show-cause hearing for attorney Norm Pattis in Waterbury, Connecticut, on Aug. 25. Photo by H. John Voorhees III/Hearst Connecticut Media via the Associated Press.
Updated: A Connecticut judge has declined to sanction a Texas lawyer representing Infowars host Alex Jones for failing to take proper action after his paralegal mistakenly released confidential documents to the opposing counsel.
Judge Barbara Bellis of Waterbury, Connecticut, said in a Jan. 17 decision she would not suspend Texas lawyer F. Andino Reynal, but she would require him to notify any Connecticut court of her findings of an ethics violation if he wants to handle a case in the state in the future.
Bellis said Reynal violated ethics rules requiring competence and the safeguarding of property.
Reynal “was obligated to safeguard the plaintiff’s sensitive information by taking the appropriate steps to identify and either retrieve or assure destruction of the inadvertently produced records once he was informed” about the inadvertent disclosure, Bellis said. “The court’s focus here is on [Reynal’s] actions—or rather, inactions—once the inadvertent disclosure was brought to his attention.”
The confidential documents, which were subject to a protective order, included medical records for family members of victims in the 2012 mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The family members in Connecticut contended that Jones defamed them when he claimed that the massacre was a hoax.
Reynal was representing Jones in a similar defamation case in Texas. He received the confidential documents from a bankruptcy lawyer who had received them from Norm Pattis, Jones’ lawyer in the Connecticut case. Reynal’s paralegal mistakenly released the documents to the opposing counsel in the Texas case through a shared link.
When the opposing counsel notified Reynal that he had apparently disclosed confidential documents, Reynal told him to disregard the link and ordered his paralegal to deactivate it. But Reynal didn’t tell the opposing counsel that he should destroy or return already-downloaded documents and didn’t inform Pattis or anyone else outside his office about the disclosure, Bellis said.
Bellis identified several ways that Reynal could have reacted. He could have found out what was inadvertently disclosed by asking his paralegal or the opposing counsel, he could have asked the opposing counsel what had already been downloaded, he could have asked the opposing counsel to return and/or destroy the records and provide proof, he could have reported the inadvertent disclosure to Pattis or a lawyer for the Connecticut plaintiffs, or he could have filed an emergency motion.
“Instead, he took none of these steps,” Bellis said.
The opposing counsel reviewed the records after a 10-day period expired. He deleted the confidential records and used inadvertently disclosed emails of Jones during cross-examination in the Texas trial.
Bellis said she wouldn’t sanction Reynal, however. She cited several mitigating factors, including that he showed remorse, he cooperated in the ethics investigation, he voluntarily traveled to Connecticut for the ethics hearing, he filed a motion for a protective order following the cross-examination, he had no prior discipline, and he had no dishonest or selfish motive.
Reynal “is reaping the benefit here of an impressive number of important mitigating factors that militate in his favor,” Bellis wrote.
Bellis ordered a six-month suspension of Pattis’ law license Jan. 5, finding that he handled the confidential documents “carelessly” without taking steps to designate them as protected by court order.
An appeals court temporarily stayed Pattis’ suspension last week to allow him to appeal, according to the Hartford Courant.
Reynal had a mixed reaction to Bellis’ decision regarding his actions.
“While I disagree with Judge Bellis’ findings regarding rule violations, I am pleased that she considered the mitigating factors and reached the decision that she did regarding sanctions,” he told the ABA Journal.
Reynal also says the 10-day clawback rule in Texas has been misrepresented in the media. Rule 193.3(d) of the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure applies to material subject to attorney-client privilege that is disclosed in litigation. No privileged communications were inadvertently produced in the Texas defamation case, he says.
“There is no 10-day clawback provision regarding the documents that were issue in this case,” Reynal says. “Those documents are arguably subject to a protective order, but there is no 10-day clawback provision.”
Reynal’s ethics troubles still aren’t over. According to Above the Law, a judge in Texas said in a Jan. 13 decision the defamation plaintiffs were entitled to attorney fees for the role that Reynal played in a bankruptcy filed on behalf of Infowars for “an abusive and improper purpose.” The bankruptcy had stayed the defamation suit until the plaintiffs dropped Infowars as a defendant.
Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of Travis County, Texas, said Reynal had filed a notice of removal and bankruptcy in the defamation case that “contained knowingly groundless statements.”
Reynal had asserted that Infowars was a defendant in the defamation case, even though that was no longer true, Gamble said. Reynal also failed to supplement discovery with information about a new 100% equity owner of Infowars and gave a misleading response to a subpoena inquiry, Gamble said.
Reynal says he is “obviously disappointed” in the sanction decision by Gamble in Texas.
“She disregarded both the law and the facts, and we plan on appealing,” he says.
“I was not the bankruptcy lawyer. I didn’t file the bankruptcy. I didn’t file the removal,” Reynal says.
All he did, Reynal says, was notify the court in the defamation case of those developments.
No judge found that the bankruptcy was filed in bad faith, he adds.
”In fact, my understanding was that the bankruptcy was a success and resulted in dismissal of all the plaintiffs’ claims against the bankrupt entities,” he says.
Responding to Gamble’s assertion that he had wrongly asserted that Infowars was still a defendant, Reynal says it was his understanding “that for purposes of the filing of a removal, Infowars remained a defendant.” He also says the defamation plaintiffs hadn’t raised any issue about failing to update discovery with information about Infowars’ ownership, “and therefore I’m not in a position to address it.”
Does Reynal regret taking on Jones as a client? Not at all, Reynal says.
“I don’t regret representing Alex Jones, and I continue to represent him,” he says.
Updated Jan. 19 at 11:10 a.m. to include comments by F. Andino Reynal.