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MIT Attorneys Able To Counsel Students

Motion in Shin Lawsuit Dismissed by Judge

By Kevin R. Lang


A judge ruled yesterday that MIT’s attorneys will be able to represent students who have been subpoenaed in connection with the lawsuit filed by the family of Elizabeth H. Shin ’02 against MIT. The ruling denied a motion by the plaintiffs’ lawyers to dismiss Palmer and Dodge LLP as counsel for MIT students.

In addition, Daryl Lapp, an attorney for Palmer and Dodge, confirmed that his firm will file a detailed answer to the suit by Friday, March 8. He said that the date was agreed upon with the plaintiffs’ attorneys.

Judge Judith Fabricant also instructed attorneys for both the Shin family and MIT to reach an agreement regarding an emergency motion filed Wednesday by Palmer and Dodge for a protective order “concerning confidential information of MIT students.” Until an agreement is reached, depositions given by subpoenaed students will remain confidential.

Judge denies dismissal of firm

Fabricant denied the motion submitted by the Shin family’s lawyer, David A. DeLuca of Murphy Hesse Toomey and Lehane, LLP which sought to disqualify Palmer and Dodge from representing MIT students who have been subpoenaed to testify in the case.

DeLuca had argued that it would be detrimental to the justice process as well as unfavorable for the students if they obtained counsel through Palmer and Dodge.

Lapp filed an opposition to the motion on Feb. 25. Lapp’s motion argued that his firm’s representation of subpoenaed students did not constitute a conflict of interest for the firm, but even if one did exist, the representation would still be permitted “with consultation and consent” from the clients.

Lapp and DeLuca each confirmed that Fabricant had denied the motion.

DeLuca said that “the reasoning that [Fabricant] gave was that it was really a matter between Palmer and Dodge and those student witnesses.” DeLuca said his firm would not seek any further action to prevent MIT from providing representation for subpoenaed students. He said the judge ruled that his firm had no standing to intervene, despite what DeLuca called “an impropriety that really affects the witnesses.”

“It’s tragic, quite honestly, that the only option the students were given was representation by Palmer and Dodge or not at all,” DeLuca said. However, he added that it was not his intention to see students not be represented during their depositions, but rather he thought MIT should have hired a different firm.

“It ought to have been counsel that’s truly independent,” DeLuca said.

Protective order under discussion

The motion filed Wednesday by Palmer and Dodge sought to “prohibit the unnecessary public disclosure of confidential information obtained in discovery from present or former MIT students who are not parties to this case.”

The motion argued that students would be required to reveal “highly sensitive” information, and that the plaintiffs had “refused to agree to refrain from publishing any or all of this discovery material to the press or others.”

DeLuca said that the motion was referred back to both firms to reach an agreement, since “as it was presented to her, she thought it was too broad, and she urged us to get together and try to come up with some language for an order that was more acceptable.”

“The judge indicated that in the absence of an agreement by the parties, she would enter some form of order, but asked the parties to work something out,” Lapp said. He said that the plaintiffs’ counsel agreed to proceed under the terms of the proposed order until a further agreement is reached.

DeLuca confirmed that his firm would not release any information from the depositions until an agreement was reached.

However, DeLuca said that he had no interest in releasing information unrelated to the case. “I have no concern whatsoever on extraneous matters or relationships that might come up in the course of this discovery,” he said. “There should be no concern on the part of the student witnesses.”