38 Studios docs removed from vault ahead of release

Court clerk pledges reams of lawsuit filings will be made public within 10 days

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Like many Rhode Islanders, Henry Kinch Jr. is finding it hard to get away from 38 Studios – in his case, literally.

Kinch, clerk of the Providence County Superior Court, was forced to cancel part of a scheduled vacation this week so he could stay at work and figure out how to execute the release of reams of hitherto-sealed documents filed in the 38 Studios lawsuit.

Kinch shrugged off the change of plans, saying he’s hoping to still be able to sneak away on Thursday and Friday once the gears are in motion.

“It’s my job,” he told WPRI.com.

Kinch is the point man charged with figuring out how to carry out Judge Michael Silverstein’s Friday order to make the 38 Studios filings public, a decision that had Rhode Island political observers buzzing all weekend over what they could reveal about the notorious $75-million loan deal – and the political insiders who made it happen.

Kinch said he met for more than an hour Monday morning with about a half-dozen court officials, including Silverstein, to start discussing how to release the tens of thousands of pages of documents.

“We take it seriously, but we’ve done it before with [the] lead paint and asbestos [cases],” Kinch said. “It’s not like this is our first rodeo with this stuff.”

Asked whether the documents will be ready for release within the 10-day window suggested by Silverstein in court on Friday, Kinch said: “No question.” That would suggest the information will become public by late next week.

The first step, Kinch said, was moving the seven or eight boxes filled with sealed court filings from the vault where they’d been kept into his office. They are now being catalogued by court employees, a process that he expects to be complete Tuesday or Wednesday. There is no precise estimate yet of how many pages there will be in total.

“First things first – you can’t solve the problem until you define it,” he said, adding: “It’s substantial. There’s no question about it.”

Another challenge for the courts – the 38 Studios suit was initially filed in November 2012, about two years before the judiciary switched over to an electronic filing system. That means many of the documents may only exist on paper and will need to be scanned in if they’re going to be distributed in a digital format.

Kinch said no decision has been made on how exactly the documents will be distributed to reporters and others who want a complete record, and he declined to speculate on whether the courts could create a special website for them.

“We talked about that with the tech people,” he said. “We expect to get some options back from them in the next day or so.”

“We’re really trying to make it so it’s the most convenient to everybody who wants to look at this stuff,” he added.

38 Studios, founded by former Red Sox ace Curt Schilling, moved to Rhode Island in 2010 in exchange for a state-backed $75 million loan. The company went bankrupt within two years, leaving taxpayers on the hook for about $89 million in principal and interest payments.

The Chafee administration sued some of the architects of the deal in 2012 in an effort to recoup some of that money. While the case has been slowly working its way through the courts for more than two years, there has still been no trial date set, and up to now many of the documents generated by the case have been sealed from public view.

Max Wistow, the state’s lead attorney, said Friday that the pretrial phase of the lawsuit has involved more than 100 deposition days and 67 witnesses. Among those deposed were former Govs. Don Carcieri and Lincoln Chafee, disgraced former House Speaker Gordon Fox, and a number of other officials from both the state and 38 Studios.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He hosts Executive Suite and writes the Nesi’s Notes blog. Follow him on Twitter: @tednesi

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