Wistow: Complexity of 38 Studios suit bears ‘no comparison to anything else’

Mountain of documents takes over third floor of Providence law firm's office

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Max Wistow can’t remember how his law firm used to use one of the rooms in his office that’s now overflowing with discovery documents from the 38 Studios lawsuit.

“What you’re looking at in this room itself is just a small fraction,” Wistow said Tuesday as Target 12 toured the mountain of materials.

Wistow is the state’s lead attorney in its suit against the architects of the 38 Studios deal. The third floor of his Providence law firm is now jammed with boxes containing hard copies of memos, emails and government documents gathered throughout the travel of the case so far. The boxes – each containing thousands of pages – are stacked against the walls of two rooms, an entire hallway and in random corners.

Visitors are greeted with a shallow wall of the papers as soon as they step off the elevator.

Wistow estimates the 38 Studios case has triggered the collection of more than one million documents, all of which he claims have been individually examined by someone in his firm.

“There is always the possibility with the number of documents we have we’ve missed something,” Wistow said. “To the best of our ability we believe that we’ve isolated – and the other lawyers have isolated – the documents that are relevant to the issues that the public is concerned with and what the case is about.”

The mountain of discovery material was not part of the public release of case documents last week, but Wistow said attorneys have distilled the millions of pages down to what they felt were the most important aspects of the case. That distilled information was presented in the form of case filings, depositions and exhibits, which were unsealed by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein and disseminated to the public last Thursday.

Wistow said the unreleased discovery material could still be handed out if someone puts in a public records request to the state, asking for a specific document.

“The Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the current administration are not interested in keeping anything suppressed from the public, nothing,” he said. “If there are things you want to look at, let us know what you want to look at and we will try to make the arrangements so you can look at it.”

Wistow – who was hired more than three years ago by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to handle the litigation – said he never imagined the suit would ultimately overtake his office the way it has. He said the 38 Studios lawsuit is the largest case his firm has ever taken on, making it even bigger than the Station nightclub fire case, which he also handled.

“In terms of the effort that has been put into this case by our firm, there is no comparison to anything else,” he said.

The lawsuit has produced results so far: six of the original 14 defendants have settled so far, resulting in nearly $17 million in payments to help taxpayers defray the costs of repaying the $75 million 38 Studios loan. Under an agreement with the state, Wistow gets 16.67 percent of any money he recoups, a rate that Chafee said was lower than his usual fee.

“We’re committed to this case. We’ve agreed to try and get the maximum recovery available so taxpayers don’t have to pay these bonds,” Wistow said. “It doesn’t matter how much time we have to spend, we’re going to spend the necessary time.”

Wistow said earlier this week the trial against the remaining 38 Studios defendants is unlikely to start before the beginning of 2016. The state has requested a jury trial, though it’s still possible the other parties could settle, as well.

The remaining defendants are Curt Schilling and three other 38 Studios executives, as well as Wells Fargo Securities LLC, Barclays Capital Inc., First Southwest Co., and Starr Indemnity and Liability Co.

Tim White ( twhite@wpri.com ) is the Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter: @TimWhiteRI

Ted Nesi contributed to this report

Eyewitness News has a team of reporters digging through documents to cover 38 Studios: Inside the Scandal. Keep checking the 38 Studios live blog on WPRI.com and catch all the latest reports on Eyewitness News on WPRI 12 and Fox Providence.

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