A federal judge has decided not to sanction a Ridgefield attorney who released unredacted deposition transcripts in a high-profile lawsuit involving Danbury’s mayor to a daily newspaper and blog.
The decision is the latest development in a highly charged case in which Wendy DaCosta, a former longtime aide to Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, has sued the mayor and the city, claiming that her civil rights have been violated and that she has been libeled. DaCosta claims she was terminated after sexual harassment complaints were brought against her, but that Boughton and others in city government weren’t punished for similar behavior. Boughton, a Republican candidate for governor, has steadfastly denied any such behavior.
According to an opinion by a Connecticut federal magistrate judge, DaCosta’s attorney, Elisabeth “Lisa” Maurer, agreed with the legal team representing the city last year that part of Danbury Human Resources Director Virginia Alosco-Werner’s deposition should be marked confidential because some of her testimony concerned personnel information about city employees.
While a Freedom of Information Act request made by the Danbury News-Times for the deposition transcripts was pending, Maurer, “in her words, agreed to provide the transcripts to the News-Times and Hat City Blog on the condition that no information designated ‘confidential’ would be published,” U.S. Magistrate Judge Donna Martinez recounted. The blog, which has been critical of Boughton’s stewardship of the city, posted unredacted versions of the depositions.
In the opinion issued March 3, Martinez wrote that “the court does not countenance Attorney Maurer’s cavalier conduct but sanctions are not in order.”
“It was ill-considered for Attorney Maurer to renege on the stipulation and to do so without prior notice to opposing counsel,” Martinez opined. “Nonetheless, this lapse in judgment did not violate any court order or rule of procedure or cause prejudice to defendants.”
The issue, the judge added, is not whether the public may have access to discovery materials but whether an order banning the parties from publicizing discovery materials is justified.
Maurer did not respond to a request for comment. But Michael Rose, managing partner for Hartford’s Rose Kallor and counsel for the Danbury defendants, said he was not disappointed that the judge decided against sanctioning Maurer. “When you file a motion like this, you’re really not asking for someone to be punished,” Rose said. “You’re asking for the rules to be followed.”
Rose and the Danbury defendants had also sought a protective order to bar Maurer & Associates, as well as its client, from disseminating any information obtained during discovery to outside parties, including the media, that would “embarrass defendant Mayor Boughton with a view to harming his political career and coercing a settlement of this case.”
In her recent ruling, Martinez agreed to grant a protective order on some limited grounds to protect from public dissemination the home addresses, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, children’s names, Social Security numbers, and financial information of “innocent third parties.” The magistrate judge also agreed to shield income information, the medical history and the disciplinary history of third-party employees not involved as litigants in the DaCosta lawsuit.
The deposition transcripts were not presented to the court, Martinez said, so a tailored protective order could not be crafted. Instead, she referred the parties to U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny’s standing protective order that has designated as confidential portions of the depositions.
In an interview, Rose stood by his view that the reason Maurer had released the unredacted deposition was “to put pressure on us. That’s not going to work. We’re not going to settle cases because of leaks of information. We’re not going to settle the case because of adverse inferences.”
But Martinez did not agree that there had been a “showing of substantial embarrassment or harm that outweighs the public’s interest in Mayor Boughton’s performance of his governmental responsibilities.” Moreover, while courts look unfavorably on abuses of the discovery process meant to coerce settlements, the Danbury defendants have not identified an abuse of judicial process that would justify a “blanket protective order,” the judge said.•