Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein on Friday ordered the release of all documents in the state's lawsuit over the failure of 38 Studios, the video game studio owned by former Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling.
The decision could shine a spotlight on a deal -- long shrouded by dark intrigue -- that left Rhode Island with $75 million in moral obligation bond debt.
"Yes! Finally!," said State Rep. Karen MacBeth, D-Cumberland, chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee. MacBeth and state Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster, received threatening letters last year asking them to "stop poking around" the 38 Studios investigation.
"There are a lot of people, including members of the Oversight Committee and staff that petitioned to have this happen over a year ago," MacBeth said Friday. "The people of this state have never stopped asking for information and answers. That shows how much we all want to hold those involved accountable and do what we need for Rhode Island to have a positive image."
The documents involve thousands of pages.
"Each piece of new information will hopefully help piece together answers to the questions we have been asking from the beginning," said MacBeth.
Craig Berke, assistant state court administrator for the Rhode Island Judiciary, said it may take the Superior Court clerk's office two weeks to assemble all the confidential documents.
"The 38 Studios case straddles the Judiciary's conversion last November to electronic case filing from paper case filing. The 38 Studios case is a hybrid of both," he said.
Silverstein ruled early in a session about a proposed settlement in the case between the state and four defendants: law firm Adler, Pollock & Sheehan PC, Robert Stoltzman, Michael Saul and Keith Stokes. The latter was head of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corp., since renamed RI Commerce Corp., when it issued $75 million of bonds for the firm, backed by the state's moral obligation, in 2010.
Adler, Pollock & Sheehan, and Stoltzman were legal advisors to the EDC. Saul is a former top EDC official. Rhode Island also settled claims against Antonio Afonso Jr. and Moses Afonso Ryan Ltd. for $4.37 million in June 2014.
The state is still proceeding against other defendants not included in prior settlements. They are Schilling, Wells Fargo Securities LLC, Barclays Capital Inc., First Southwest Co., Starr Indemnity and Liability Co., Thomas Zaccagnino, Richard Wester and Jennifer MacLean.
State officials envisioned 38 Studios as a lynchpin to a buildup in tech startups in downtown Providence.
But the company folded in 2012 and the company filed for Chapter 7 liquidation, leaving taxpayers on the hook and requiring Rhode Island to make annual payments toward the debt. All three major bond rating agencies threatened to downgrade the state if it didn't honor the guarantee, saying essentially that moral obligation debt was tantamount to general obligation.
Moody's Investors Service rates Rhode Island GO bonds Aa2. Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor's rate them AA.
Controversies have included the threatening letters to MacBeth and Chippendale; accusations by bond trader and former congressional candidate Michael Riley of insider trading; and Rhode Island rehiring First Southwest as its financial advisor even though it's suing that bank and others, looking to reclaim lost money from the 38 Studios deal.
"We welcome complete disclosure of the transcripts and records rather than just selective pieces," First Southwest spokeswoman Patti Doyle said Friday.
Providence television station WPRI reported recently that former House Speaker Gordon Fox ordered Stokes to craft the deal that enticed Schilling to move his company to Providence from Maynard, Mass.
Citing court filings not public at the time, the station said state lawyers allege that Fox met privately with Schilling and high-ranking 38 Studios board member Zaccagnino before a March 2010 fundraiser where then-Gov. Don Carcieri and Schilling started discussing the company's move.
Fox is serving a three-year sentence, unrelated, in a Pennsylvania federal prison for stealing $108,000 of campaign donations, accepting a $52,000 bribe and filing false tax returns.
Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams was appointed to mediate the lawsuit. Williams also mediated in the lawsuit challenging Rhode Island's 2011 law overhauling pension benefits for state employees.
Schilling, a video-game enthusiast who helped the Red Sox win two World Series titles, including one while pitching on a badly injured ankle in New York's Yankee Stadium, founded the company in 2006. It released its first game, "Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning," in 2012 through Electronic Arts Inc.
The loan in question had intended to underwrite "Project Copernicus," but Schilling closed the company.
The fiasco set back economic development efforts and has made leaders skittish about funding economic development initiatives in Rhode Island, which has one of the country's worst unemployment rates.
Opposition has been rising to a proposal to build a minor-league baseball stadium near downtown Providence on land vacated by the relocation of Interstate 195, with some critics nicknaming the proposal "38 Stadium."
Schilling, who lost an estimated $50 million on 38 Studios, became a baseball commentator for ESPN. The network suspended him this week for retweeting a message that likened Muslim extremists to Nazis.