A Connecticut Superior Court judge handed a six month suspension on Thursday to Attorney Norm Pattis as a result of his disclosure of personal records belonging to several Sandy Hook shooting victims’ families in their defamation case against Alex Jones.
Pattis, a well-known defense attorney in Connecticut, has represented the conspiracy theorist and right-wing radio host in one of the defamation suits brought by the families of the victims of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown. Jones told listeners of his Infowars show for years that the massacre was a hoax.
Pattis’s suspension, issued by Waterbury Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis, stems from his office’s transfer of files to attorneys who were representing Jones in a related defamation case in Texas. The files contained the Sandy Hook families confidential information like medical and mental health records.
In a 49-page decision, Bellis called incredible the release of the information despite a “clear and unambiguous” court order requiring their protection.
“Not only did he improperly release the records to [attorneys Andino Reynal and Kyung Lee], but he did so carelessly, taking no steps to designate the materials as protected by court order, mark them as confidential, or inform the recipients that they were in possession of sensitive and protected documents,” Bellis wrote.
The judge said that lawyers must competently handle sensitive information in lawsuits otherwise the civil legal system would “simply collapse” when litigants become unwilling to turn their confidential information over to attorneys and court officers.
“We cannot expect our system of justice or our attorneys to be perfect but we can expect fundamental fairness and decency,” Bellis wrote. “There was no fairness or decency in the treatment of the plaintiffs’ most sensitive and personal information, and now excuse for the respondent’s misconduct.”
Pattis did not immediately return requests for comment Friday morning, but told NBC Connecticut his lawyers would request a stay to appeal the decision.
In court documents last month, Wesley Mead, a lawyer representing Pattis, argued the error was the result of “an innocent mistake” or a misinterpretation of the protective order, which had been amended in March.
“To suspend Attorney Pattis on this record would make this a case-first of its kind, to punish a lawyer so severely for an inadvertent error, misreading or misinterpretation of a Confidentiality Order,” Mead wrote.
In her decision, Bellis said she flatly rejected the argument that the disclosure was inadvertent or a misinterpretation.
“The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that the respondent knowingly disobeyed the protective order by failing to keep the records in a safe and secure manner,” she wrote.
Following a jury trial in October, Jones was ordered to pay around $1 billion in damages to the families of the victims whose lawyers argued his claims led to emotional distress and harassment.
Pattis’ improper disclosure of the families confidential files was related to bankruptcy proceedings in Texas where his show’s parent company, Free Speech Systems, is based.