Had the hospital enforced its own rules concerning research involving child subjects, it could have prevented a perverse study that Reardon used as a ploy for more than two decades to abuse and take obscene photographs of hundreds of children, consultant Arthur S. Shorr said at Superior Court.
Shorr was testifying as a witness for the first of about 90 adults who are suing St. Francis, Reardon's longtime employer. The civil suits, all filed anonymously by men and women who describe themselves as Reardon victims, claim that the hospital's failure to supervise the doctor subjected them to abuse that, in many of their cases, resulted in lingering emotional problems. ...
No, it’s not the criminal case against the second Cheshire home invasion suspect.
Instead, the civil trial scheduled to start Tuesday, April 5 will focus on the late George Reardon, a doctor at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, who is accused of photographing and sexually abusing hundreds of boys and girls in his hospital office during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.
Reardon, the chief endocrinologist at St. Francis, died of a heart attack in 1998. So the defendant in the lawsuit is the hospital itself, which, according to the plaintiffs, knew or should have known that the adolescent “growth studies” Reardon was allegedly conducting were scholastically bogus and simply excuses for him to sexually abuse minors and create child pornography. The hospital has maintained all along that it did not know, and had no reason to know, of Reardon’s improper behavior.
By agreement of the parties, a “John Doe No. 2” is the lone plaintiff in the first case, with 85 other anonymous plaintiffs in line. Doe contends the hospital is liable for money damages for negligently hiring, supervising and retaining Reardon.
To the relief of plaintiffs’ lawyers, despite having only one plaintiff, it appears they will be able to present an expansive overview of Reardon’s activities during a 30-year period. In Waterbury, Superior Court Judge Daniel Shaban, the complex litigation judge in charge, recently ruled on more than a dozen “motions in limine” that sought to exclude key portions of Doe’s case.
In a series of key rulings, Shaban will allow the jury of four men and two women to hear testimony of the broad scope of Reardon’s activities, and to see many of the actual photographs from the cache of 50,000 slides and 130 movie reels discovered hidden in a wall in Reardon’s former West Hartford residence in late November 2007.
At press time late last week, the judge had yet to rule on a motion for summary judgment by the hospital. It contends Connecticut’s 30-year statute of limitations for sex crimes does not apply to negligence actions like Doe’s case.
Since the first lawsuits were filed in 2008, lawyers from eight separate plaintiffs’ law firms have been engaged in settlement talks with the hospital. Those broke down in 2009. About the only thing the parties did agree upon was to narrow the first case to a single plaintiff.
Beyond that, court filings show that the defense unsuccessfully attempted to limit evidence to the experiences of John Doe No. 2, on the grounds that anything beyond that would be irrelevant, misleading or inflammatory. The hospital is being defended by Day Pitney lawyers, including Ernest J. Mattei, Paul D. Murray and Michael P. Shea.
One fact the hospital initially asked the court to suppress is reference to a pistol Reardon allegedly kept strapped under his lab coat, and, plaintiffs allege, sometimes used to intimidate patients. That motion to exclude was withdrawn, Judge Shaban noted in a March 16 ruling.
The defense also wanted to exclude mention of the hospital’s reimbursement of Reardon’s photographic expenses of $18,938.61, which the plaintiffs alleged was spent “to make his pornographic images.” The sum, in 2010 dollars, would equal $54,718.66, plaintiffs’ lawyers allege. The hospital’s lawyers countered the photo and darkroom expenses could have been for “entirely legitimate teaching purposes.” Revealing the cost would be “prejudicial, confusing and misleading” to the jury, the defense said.
The jury will also learn of the hoard of photos that have been kept in custody by West Hartford police. They include naked groups of siblings, some posed in sexually suggestive “tableau” arrangements. The hospital moved to suppress a photo of Doe and his sister, as well as photos it considered to be duplicative or cumulative. St. Francis responded that the photos “do not, by themselves, constitute abuse” and are only alleged evidence of abuse.
But the plaintiff, represented by New Haven lawyers Michael A. Stratton and Joel T. Faxon, countered that the photos
The plaintiffs will also be allowed to call West Hartford police Capt. Donald Melanson, and have him testify about the existence of the slides and other evidence found in the West Hartford house. He will not be allowed to speculate that Reardon traded images with others.
The hospital, in a February motion, argued strenuously to prevent Melanson’s testimony about Reardon possibly trading slides and film with child pornography collectors, calling it “pure speculation.” The basis for such testimony was hearsay, St. Francis contended. “Hearsay is inadmissible, and presenting it through an expert does not change that fact.”
St. Francis also successfully argued that Melanson could not testify that the photographs were pornographic. Defense lawyers said that endocrinologists – who, among other things, study hormones and their impact on growth – might legitimately
The hospital scoffed at the plaintiff’s borrowing the line of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about pornography – while it’s hard to define, he knows it when he sees it. Such obvious subjectivity, “is precisely why Melanson’s `expert’ testimony should be precluded,” hospital lawyers wrote.
The plaintiff’s case, as explained in its 108-page motion in opposition to summary judgment, focuses on the duties of a hospital engaged in human experimentation.
Stratton and Faxon’s brief quotes from the hospital’s 1975 “General Assurance to the Department of Health, Education & Welfare” about the use of humans in research. It says the hospital has to impartially review its policies to “ensure the type of patient interaction” consistent with “the principle of an omniscient God.”
Not only did the hospital know that God was watching, it was also was answerable to U.S. laws and the world community, the plaintiff’s brief states. Under the Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki and the National Commission for the protection of Human Subjects, St. Francis was subject to federal research standards, requiring supervision and care.
Over the hospital’s objection, the judge is allowing testimony from a plaintiff’s witness, New York pediatric endocrinologist Dr. Maria New. She is to testify that a chaperone in the room should have been a requisite professional precaution during Reardon’s activities with children.
In its defense, St. Francis countered that a research hospital does not, and never has, owed human subjects a “fiduciary duty” of care toward the research subjects.
The plaintiff’s response is indignant. The hospital
St. Francis asked the court to exclude evidence of reports made in 1964 and 1970 complaining about Reardon to the Hartford County Medical Association. It contended that St. Francis knew nothing about those complaints, and that if asked, the medical association would not have told the hospital the contents of the allegations.
The 1964 and 1970 complaints of sexual abuse are irrelevant, argued St. Francis lawyer James H. Rotondo,
The plaintiff’s lawyers contend, in court papers, that they were stonewalled in the discovery process right up until trial, and were not able to learn enough about the hospital’s procedures for supervising studies like Reardon’s.
To fill in the missing information, Stratton and Faxon turned to Los Angeles hospital administrator Arthur S. Shorr, who has testified in hundreds of cases. Shorr offered pointed deposition testimony about what St. Francis should have been asking someone doing childhood grown studies.
The plaintiffs, in a March 4 affidavit, sought to add Shorr’s opinions to the pending summary judgment dispute, but Judge Shaban rejected it. The loss of Shorr’s testimony, Stratton argued in a brief, was like a court-imposed sanction punishing the plaintiffs.
The Judicial Branch has no easy way to predict how many co-plaintiffs, members of the press, or members of the general public will want to attend the Waterbury trial.
Because the trial has sexual content, court rules do not allow television coverage of the proceedings. Judge Shaban’s Courtroom 3B seats about 100, and a closed-circuit TV system was being set up last week to allow overflow spectators to view the proceedings from an adjacent courtroom. •