Yesterday, team Southwell cashed in on its major court motion win from last month, when Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Lanphear ruled that key RI Department of Health officials could be deposed by the plaintiffs’ attorney. The over three dozen parent plaintiffs and their attorney have been racking up recent victories in Rhode Island’s Superior Court in the ongoing Southwell v McKee lawsuit against K-12 school mask mandates.
Yesterday, Dr. James McDonald, former RIDOH Interim Director and Medical Director, was deposed by attorney Gregory Piccirilli. According to sources who witnessed the deposition, McDonald, under oath, answered questions about statements made and materials distributed by RIDOH relative to the State’s motion to dismiss the entire case as “moot”, when it suggested that mask mandates would never come back.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: See the detailed interview and analysis of McDonald's deposition when Laure Gaddis Barrett is interviewed on In The Dugout with Mike Stenhouse, click here to view at the 16:45 mark.
Yet, with the the subsequent re-imposition of masks in Providence and Central Falls, the judge wrote “although the Governor’s Executive Order expired and the resultant mandatory masking of students has ceased, there is no assurance that will not be back.”
The depositions are a result of a June motion filed by Piccirilli, and granted by the judge, seeking sanctions against the State for “misleading the court” about whether or not mask mandates might ever be imposed again, following the expiration of the Governor’s executive orders, the central issue in the State’s mootness argument.
Further details and analysis of the deposition will be provided next week when members of the plaintiff team will be interview on In The Dugout with Mike Stenhouse.
The July 7 deposition, which lasted approximately 3 hours, was contentious at times, and was recorded via video. Earlier in the day the State filed a motion to suppress public dissemination of the video, fearing that the RIDOH’s non-scientific decision making process would be subject to public derision and ridicule. Judge Lanphear has not yet ruled on that motion.
Dr. McDonald defended his May 20 memo to parents across Rhode Island, encouraging universal masking …however, he actually described his own memo as “unenforceable”.
Also expected to be deposed in the coming weeks are Jaime Comella, Associate Director of Health, and perhaps Dr. Phil Chan, Consultant Medical Director, for RIDOH.
Earlier this year, Judge Lanphear ruled against the State’s motion to dismiss the parent’s lawsuit on the basis of “mootness”, writing in his decision that “the making requirement is a live controversy, likely to be reimposed if future conditions change,” and not a an issue that “teeters on mootness,” as the State claimed in its motion.
In keeping the lawsuit alive, not only will the larger hearing continues, which challenges the State’s authority and justification for imposing universal masking policies, but it also means that other motions filed by team Southwell will also proceed.
Of greatest apparent concern to the State and RIDOH, and of potentially enormous consequence for the parent-plaintiffs, was the motion to allow Southwell’s attorneys to conduct depositions with key administration and health officials. During the lawsuit’s proceedings, which began in the fall of 2021, the State has done everything in its power to avoid all forms of “discovery”; the theory that their arbitrary and non-science-based policy decision making would not hold up as credible under public scrutiny – now appears to be true.
While team Southwell was denied a preliminary injunction many months ago, recent court victories have already proven advantageous to the parent plaintiffs in the trial’s future proceedings.
Stay tuned to The Ocean State Current for the latest updates on this lawsuit.
Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?