Judge Finds R.I. Attorney General in Contempt in Lead Paint Case

May 7, 2006

A judge held the Rhode Island attorney general in civil contempt and fined him $5,000 for publicly accusing former lead paint makers of twisting the facts during Rhode Island’s landmark lawsuit against the companies, according to newly unsealed court documents.

In a ruling dated Dec. 6, Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein said Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s remarks violated rules on court conduct regulating what lawyers may say publicly about cases. The judge weeks earlier had issued a written ruling ordering Lynch to comply with the rules of professional conduct.

The contempt order was among dozens of documents from the civil trial that were made publicly available Friday in Providence Superior Court.

Lynch on Friday denied violating the court order and said he believes the findings would be set aside.

“I did not commit, and never would commit, any willful act to challenge any Court order concerning the limiting of statements that could affect pretrial or trial publicity,” Lynch said in a written statement.

The judge stayed the fine to allow for an appeal, which the state filed shortly after the ruling, said Deputy Attorney General Jim Lee.

The fine involved Lynch’s comments outside court, when he referred to the companies as “those who would spin and twist the facts,” according to a Nov. 17 article in The Providence Journal. The comment came after Silverstein rejected mistrial motions filed by the four defendants a few weeks after the trial began.

A jury in February found three of the companies — Cleveland-based Sherwin-Williams Co., NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings LLC — liable for creating a public nuisance. They will be ordered to clean up contamination caused by lead paint, which the state says could cost billions of dollars.

After the article appeared, Millennium Holdings filed a motion to have Lynch held in contempt.

Lynch was also held in contempt a second time for comments made to reporters after the jury returned its verdict in February, though that sanction did not carry a fine, Lee said. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for later this month.

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