Back in June, a Cuyahoga County jury awarded $392,750 plus attorneys fees to Christina Cruz and Heidi Kaiser in a civil suit verdict against the English Nanny and Governess School in Chagrin Falls.
The details of the case are as follows: Cruz was a student at the school (she is no longer enrolled). In July of 2011, she witnessed a client sexually abusing one of his daughters (the girl was 9 at the time). Kaiser was the placement director for the school, which is owned and operated by Bradford Gaylord and his mother Sheilagh Roth. She is no longer employed by the school. That's because, the lawsuit alleged, when Cruz reported the alleged sexual abuse, Gaylord and Roth discouraged her from making any official report on the client and subsequently fired Kaiser when she refused to help suppress Cruz's claims.
A jury agreed with Cruz and Kaiser.
Scene originally wrote about the case back on March 31, 2015
. It was a noteworthy and newsworthy proceeding on its own, not to mention that Scene had previously covered the school twice (once in 2008
, and again in 2011
when the school was featured on ABC's Nightline). Scene followed up on the March 31 story on June 17 when the judgment and award came down. Cleveland.com reported on the same news the next day.
Why does any of that matter now?
Because lawyers for Bradford Gaylord and Sheilagh Roth are pursuing legal action against the attorney for Cruz and Kaiser. That attorney is Peter Pattakos, who besides being a damn great lawyer also happens to be an occasional contributor to Scene
and a very good friend of mine.
One of the nanny school's attorneys, Bill Edwards, is arguing that Pattakos should be sanctioned for telling me that the case was going to trial, that he violated the Ohio Rules Rules of Professional Conduct for doing nothing but informing me that a public proceeding was occurring and passing along publicly available documents about the case. Another way to look at it: The school is doing anything it can because it was angry that anyone wrote about the case in the first place, that anyone would dare tarnish a reputation it cherished dearly, and didn't want you to know about it.
I'll say the same thing here that I said when I testified as a witness for Pattakos in a hearing a couple of weeks ago on the matter: Pattakos told me about the case years ago. I expressed my interest in writing about it at some point. There were eventually settlement talks between the two sides and he asked that I hold off on writing anything. I never pursued the investigation further. Those settlement talks didn't reach an agreement. The case went to trial. He told me when the trial was starting. (If you want to read the full 162-page transcript of that day's events, Cleveland.com has them embedded here
That's it. Nothing that any other lawyer doesn't do with the media, and nothing that isn't specifically carved out and allowed by the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct
. Here, let's review the exact language of the pertinent clause (bolding emphasis mine).
RULE 3.6: TRIAL PUBLICITY
(a) A lawyer who is participating or has participated in the investigation or litigation of a matter shall not make an extrajudicial statement that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know will be disseminated by means of public communication and will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding in the matter.
(b) Notwithstanding division (a) of this rule and if permitted by Rule 1.6, a lawyer may state any of the following:
(1) the claim, offense, or defense involved and, except when prohibited by law, the identity of the persons involved;
(2) information contained in a public record;
(3) that an investigation of a matter is in progress;
(4) the scheduling or result of any step in litigation;
(5) a request for assistance in obtaining evidence and information necessary thereto;
(6) a warning of danger concerning the behavior of a person involved when there is reason to believe that there exists the likelihood of substantial harm to an individual or to the public interest;
(7) in a criminal case, in addition to divisions (b)(1) to (6) of this rule, any of the following:
(i) the identity, residence, occupation, and family status of the accused;
(ii) if the accused has not been apprehended, information necessary to aid in apprehension of that person;
(iii) the fact, time, and place of arrest;
(iv) the identity of investigating and arresting officers or agencies and the length of the investigation.
(c) Notwithstanding division (a) of this rule, a lawyer may make a statement that a reasonable lawyer would believe is required to protect a client from the substantial undue prejudicial effect of recent publicity not initiated by the lawyer or the lawyer’s client. A statement made pursuant to this division shall be limited to information necessary to mitigate the recent adverse publicity.
(d) No lawyer associated in a firm or government agency with a lawyer subject to division (a) of this rule shall make a statement prohibited by division (a) of this rule.
If you want to refer back to Scene's two stories and check for yourself whether any information we published violates any of those rules, do be our guest.
To prohibit anyone — a lawyer, a source, an everyday citizen — from speaking to the media about or to alert it to public proceedings would be devastating.
And, to extrapolate even more dire consequences for journalism, we first have to look to what Judge Griffin himself said:
In a hearing earlier this month, Griffin [said] that there's a difference between lawyers who talk about a case after being approached by reporters and lawyers who initiate press coverage.
"I think lawyers basically have an obligation not to talk about their cases and to protect their clients," the judge said, according to a court transcript.
So only media outlets with the budget and staff to cover courtroom proceedings every day are allowed to inquire about court cases? What about towns with no courthouse reporters? What about outlets not based locally that wish to report on whatever's happening? What better way to ensure the vast majority of cases are never written about, let alone examined for newsworthiness. The effects are pretty chilling to imagine considering the public interest in the happenings before judges and juries, not to mention the first amendment issues going on here on multiple levels.
And as far as fruitful bat signal-stories go: Check out the healthy amount of complaints in the comment section of our story posted by former students or family of former students. We also heard privately from three folks who wanted to talk about their time at ENGS for a subsequent article should it happen. We look forward to hopefully telling their stories one day and eagerly await baseless legal challenges from ENGS afterward.