PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo and a quintet of good-government groups on Tuesday added their voices to calls for Attorney General Peter Kilmartin to release material uncovered during the four-year grand-jury investigation into the failed 38 Studios deal.
Kilmartin, a second-term Democrat, and R.I. State Police Col. Steven O’Donnell announced Friday that no criminal charges will be filed in the case. Kilmartin also said he wants all the information generated during the investigation – including more than 100 witness interviews and thousands of pages of documents – to remain sealed from the public.
That decision has already triggered bipartisan criticism from Democrats, including House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Democratic Party Chairman Rep. Joseph McNamara, and Republicans, including House Minority Leader Brian Newberry and Kilmartin’s 2014 opponent Dawson Hodgson.
Marie Aberger, a spokeswoman for Raimondo, reiterated Tuesday that the governor always opposed the 38 Studios deal and said “taxpayers demand and deserve transparency and accountability.”
“Releasing documents from a pending criminal investigation is a decision for the attorney general,” Aberger said in a statement. “Once the legal process has concluded, Governor Raimondo encourages the attorney general to take action to make all records from this investigation public.”
During her 2014 campaign Raimondo pledged to order an independent investigation into 38 Studios, but after taking office she announced she would not follow through on the promise.
38 Studios, a video-game company founded by Curt Schilling, received a $75-million state-backed loan in 2010. The company collapsed into bankruptcy two years later, leaving the state’s taxpayers on the hook for roughly $90 million in principal and interest payments that continue to be made. Two civil lawsuits over the failed deal are currently making their way through the courts.
The statement from Raimondo’s office came hours after five organizations – ACCESS/RI, the ACLU of RI, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the New England First Amendment Coalition – released a public letter to Kilmartin and O’Donnell calling their rationale for keeping the material under wraps “less than compelling.”
“[T]he disaster known as 38 Studios happened because of a deeply ingrained culture of secrecy in this state,” the groups’ leaders wrote. “The official state investigation into that disaster should not perpetuate that culture.”
The groups noted two previous instances when grand-jury secrecy was waived to provide the public with information about a high-interest investigation: the Station nightclub fire and the shooting of off-duty officer Cornel Young Jr. They also dismissed Kilmartin’s characterization of the case as “open but inactive” rather than closed, and expressed incredulity that allowing the information to become public would jeopardize a future prosecution that they see as unlikely anyway.
In response, Kilmartin released a lengthy new statement hitting back at the groups and defending his decision:
Since the conclusion of the criminal investigation into the failure of 38 Studios was announced last week, there have been calls from numerous persons to release what they term the “records” of this case. As Attorney General, I have declined to do so, and will continue to, for the following reasons.
First, Colonel O’Donnell and I made clear that this remains an open, albeit inactive investigation. At least two pieces of civil litigation directly related to the same subject are awaiting trial. Although I do not expect this litigation to disclose new information that may prompt us to reexamine our conclusions in the criminal investigation, it would be irresponsible for me to release this information prior to the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations.
More importantly, even if the case were not considered “open, albeit inactive,” the law is very clear about the rules concerning grand jury secrecy. These rules are made even more strict when a grand jury hears information, but does not return an indictment. It’s a red herring for the ACLU and others to compare this situation to that of previous examples when grand jury proceedings were released. The fact that an indictment was returned in the Station Nightclub case makes that case fundamentally different than the 38 Studios case. And in the case of the grand jury that reviewed the tragic death of Sergeant Cornel Young, Jr., the targets of that grand jury specifically waived their rights to privacy, and the court found a particularized need for the release of the information. In both those instances, the criminal investigations considered by the grand juries were closed prior to the release of the grand jury transcripts.
In last week’s release, we outlined, in very brief terms, our state law regarding grand jury secrecy. Those requesting that I release this information can disregard the existence those rules and laws; I do not have that luxury.
Politics should have no role in judicial proceedings, and to change course at the request of outside politically-motivated groups would be a betrayal of the judicial process. Since this group chose to take their so-called unbiased request to the media before giving the Office the courtesy to respond, they may consider this a formal response to their letter.