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The New England First Amendment Coalition and several other Rhode Island open government advocates submitted an amicus brief today arguing for the release of grand jury records in the 38 Studios proceedings.
“There is an overwhelming public interest in disclosure of the 38 Studios grand jury records,” the groups argued. “It is an exceptional case involving failures at every level of state government.”
Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, Jared A. Goldstein and Andrew Horwitz, submitted the brief on behalf of NEFAC, the ACLU of Rhode Island, Common Cause RI and the Rhode Island Press Association.
The brief is in support of R.I. Gov. Gina Raimondo’s appeal for the release of the grand jury records in the 38 Studios proceedings. According to the brief:
“[T]he need for continued grand jury secrecy is significantly diminished . . . 38 Studios has left a cloud hanging over Rhode Island government. Although 38 Studios has had profound effects on the state, no public accounting has occurred. No official report detailing what happened and what went wrong has been issued. In short, 38 Studios is a matter of intense public interest. The public has a right to know how Rhode Island officials made the crucial decisions to spend $75 million of the public’s money on 38 Studios. Rhode Islanders are also entitled to know whether the state conducted a thorough investigation into 38 Studios.”
The 38 Studios case began in 2010 when retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling asked for and received a $75 million loan guarantee in Rhode Island state bonds to develop and produce a single player action video game at a headquarters in Providence.
Work had just begun on the video game when 38 Studios made a loan payment to the state of $1.25 million in the form of a check that bounced. The new company eventually declared bankruptcy leaving the state’s taxpayers to repay the $75 million loan.
News media and open government advocates have since struggled to gain access to details of the deliberations to bring Schilling’s company to Rhode Island and the bankruptcy that resulted. In August 2016, NEFAC and other advocates wrote to state officials emphasizing the “extraordinarily strong public interest” in the 38 Studios scandal. In April 2017, the coalition called for the release of grand jury records and in May 2017 decried continued secrecy in the case.
Statements from Participants in the Amicus Brief:
Jared Goldstein | ACLU of RI Volunteer Attorney: “This case is about the fundamental right of the people to know about the operations of their government. Although grand jury records are ordinarily kept secret, the principle of grand jury secrecy is not absolute. It must give way under exceptional circumstances when the public interest in transparency is overwhelming. 38 Studios is just such an exceptional circumstance.”
Linda Levin | Secretary of the Rhode Island Press Association: “The Rhode Island Press Association believes that the public deserves to be told what decisions public officials made relating to this case and what happened to the public funds. While members of the Press Association understand the importance of grand jury secrecy, we think it necessary to disclose the details of this case because of its profound implications on the financial resources of the state and its citizens.”
Steven Brown | Executive Director of the ACLU of Rhode Island: “Clearly something went very wrong in the 38 Studios fiasco. The grand jury records might not answer all the questions that remain in this saga, but having access to them may restore some of the public’s confidence in the workings of our state government.”
John Marion | Executive Director of Common Cause Rhode Island: “Rhode Islanders may never know everything about how the 38 Studios debacle occurred, but they deserve as full an accounting as possible. Included in that is knowing how much effort was put into getting to the bottom of what happened.”
Justin Silverman | Executive Director of NEFAC: “Six years and millions of dollars later, we still don’t know everything about 38 Studios. Rhode Island residents deserve a full accounting of what happened and why. That’s the only way we can make sure a similar debacle doesn’t happen again.”
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.