Judge Stern Orders Diocese to Expedite Production of Documents to Special Investigator
Wednesday, December 06, 2017
The usually calm Superior Court Judge Brian Stern showed signs of frustration with the legal machinations of the Diocese of Providence's attorney Howard Merten during a Superior Court hearing on Tuesday.
After an hour of back and forth, Merten, the managing partner of Partridge, Snow, and Hahn claimed that his firm had been helpful in delivering subpoenaed documents to the receiver and special investigator of the financially collapsed St. Joseph pension fund. Special investigator Max Wistow strongly disagreed with Merten's claims.
At the hearing, the Diocese was loaded for bear — their tony downtown Providence law firm located in the Textron Building — swamped the latest legal joust with attorneys.
Four firm partners Kim McCarty, Gene Bernardo, Jr., Paul Kessimian as well as Merten all attended the hearing and then the four were summoned to confer with Stern and special investigator for the receiver of the failed pension fund - Wistow.
Combined the four Diocese attorneys bill at an hourly standard rate of about $1,500 per hour — nearly twice the average monthly pension payment received by one of the fund’s retirees.
The showdown between Wistow and Merten was sparked by the efforts by the Diocese to block the disclosure of subpoenaed documents sought by Wistow. More than a month of delaying was under Stern's microscope.
Plan participants attend another court hearing
Wistow argued before Stern that the Bishop was delaying and “slow walking" documents that Wistow is seeking on behalf the pension plan members.
Merten shot back that the Wistow subpoena was overly broad — the #1 complaint of the attorney of any target of a subpoena.
Wistow said that the Diocese has known about this shortfall in pension funds for years and that they were delaying now which would only exasperate the adverse impact to more than 2,700 participants to the pension plan.
The attack on the Diocese and the actions of Bishop Thomas Tobin were launched relentlessly by Wistow and followed up by arguments by United Nurses and Allied Professional attorney Chris Callaci and former RI Attorney General Arlene Violet.
At the conclusion of arguments, Stern ordered the Diocese’s plethora of attorneys to conference immediately after the hearing to meet with Wistow and, he further ordered, that the two parties meet this week to set the groundwork for the transfer of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of documents that were subpoenaed. To date, the Diocese had only turned over 7,000 pages of documents and those were delivered to Wistow at nearly 10:00 pm the night before Tuesday’s hearings.
Prior to the hearing dozens of pension plan members picketed outside of the courthouse.
Wistow announced to the court that the negotiations with Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office were making progress on the scope of the subpoena and the delivery of documents.