In a 24-page decision released Thursday, Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice Gibney rejected Governor Gina Raimondo's request to release the grand jury records in the 38 Studios case, writing in part that "releasing documents based on mere public interest in grand jury proceedings would entirely defeat the purpose, and role, of the grand jury."
Gibney also wrote that Raimondo did not meet a burden to show that the need for disclosing the records is greater than the need for secrecy.
Grand jury records are usually kept secret, although there are occasional exceptions. Gibney wrote that Raimondo’s request did not meet any of the exceptions for releasing the records.
The judge also pointed to how no criminal charges were filed in the 38 Studios case.
"The Petitioner was not a party to the original investigation," Gibney wrote in her decision, "the civil suit has concluded, the Petitioner does not need the materials for any particularized reason, the targets of the investigation were exonerated, and disclosure of the material would hinder the free and untrammeled flow of information and compromise the long-standing history of grand jury secrecy."
Allowing a public clamor to justify a release of records would defeat the purpose and role of the grand jury, Gibney wrote.
"While I respect the court's decision, I am disappointed with today's ruling," Raimondo said in a statement. "I have asked my legal team to review our options."
The Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU supported Raimondo's request for the releasing the grand jury records.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin opposed the request.
In a statement, Kilmartin said, “We appreciate Presiding Justice Gibney’s well-reasoned and thoughtful decision upholding the special role of the grand jury in the criminal justice system. As Presiding Justice Gibney determined, ‘allowing public clamor alone to justify disclosure would cause the exception’ for the release of grand jury materials ‘to swallow the rule’ and would ‘entirely defeat the purpose, and role, of the grand jury.’ While the subject of this case was 38 Studios, at its core it was about the integrity of the grand jury process and its role within the administration of justice. The Superior Court’s decision upholds the rule of law."
38 Studios left Rhode Island taxpayers on the hook when it went bankrupt in 2012, after getting a $75 million state loan guarantee in 2010. Most of that money was recovered through a lawsuit initiated by former Governor Lincoln Chafee.
In a RI Public Radio interview earlier this month, Raimondo -- who backed an independent probe of 38 Studios as a candidate in 2014, and later backed away -- said she was unsure if she would renew her support for an outside investigation.
"It's a tough call," the governor said. "On one hand, I hear from a lot of Rhode Islanders who say it's time to move on .... On the other hand, if those documents aren't released, then there's always that question in the public's mind of what wasn't there? So I'm going to wait and see what the judge does. I really hope that the judge agrees with our position, which is that this case is special and everything should be let out to the public. After that decision, I'll see where we go."
The Rhode Island House has passed a bill introduced by Rep. Charlene Lima calling for the release of "certain records" related to 38 Studios. Records from the criminal probe were released last year.
This post has been updated.