An appeals court has ruled for Alex Jones lawyer Norm Pattis, indefinitely postponing the suspension of his law license by the judge who presided over Jones’ Sandy Hook defamation trial as discipline for the improper disclosure of medical records.
The order by the state Appellate Court means Pattis can continue practicing law without interruption for however long it takes him to challenge what was to have been an immediate six-month suspension imposed by Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis on Jan. 5.
Bellis and Pattis clashed regularly over the course of the defamation trial that ended last year in a remarkable $1.4 billion verdict against Jones and for the families of Sandy Hook victims, who argued his conspiratorial broadcasts deriding the 2012 school shooting a hoax destroyed their lives.
Over the weeks leading to the Appellate order, dated Thursday, the two sparred in court filings laying out their positions on the disclosure of the records and the suspension.
Pattis has acknowledged improperly disclosing personal medical records belonging to the relatives who sued Jones. But he called the release an inadvertent and ultimately harmless transmittal to three Jones lawyers in Texas. He said none of the recipients read the records, which were destroyed without being further disseminated.
In a court filing, he said his suspension was illegally ordered and reflects “a growing, and disturbing, trend among trial court judges of dispensing summary judgment against aggressive lawyers, a tendency that cannot help but to undermine the adversarial system and create a more limpid inquisitorial regime.”
Bellis, in court orders, has characterized the disclosure of the records as an irresponsible, repeated and willful violation of a succession of her orders prohibiting the disclosure of highly confidential personal records. She said she made the suspension immediate out of concern that Pattis might cause more harm to litigants of the public during a long appeal of the Jones verdict.
“Given this lack of an explanation, coupled with (Pattis’) repeated argument that there was only a single mistake made, the court remained concerned with protecting the public and other litigants during a lengthy appeal process,” Bellis wrote in a court order.
In its one-sentence order, the appeals court did not give a reason for postponing, or staying the suspension. But it said the stay will be in effect until Pattis’ challenge of the discipline is resolved by the appeals court, a process that could take months or years.
One of Pattis’ arguments for a postponement of the suspension is that the length of the appeals process means that he would have served the six months before getting an appeal ruling on his challenge.
The medical and psychiatric records in question supported the argument by relatives of Sandy Hook victims that they had been traumatized by Jones’ assertions that the elementary school massacre was a hoax and by years of harassment by members of his audience. The records were provided to Jones as part of the pretrial exchange of information between parties.
Bellis issued unusually restrictive confidentiality orders limiting the sharing of the private, personal information out of fear that it could be misused to ridicule those suing Jones.
Jones’ Texas-based company, Free Speech Systems, operates broadcast and retail platforms on the internet that reach an audience of millions. The jury that returned the potential record verdict against Jones concluded that the relatives of the Sandy Hook shooting victims were harassed and threatened for nearly a decade by audience members who subscribed to Jones’ conspiracy theories.