Students denounce Yale-affiliated lawyers for role in Sandy Hook suit
One of the University’s law firms simultaneously represents Remington in the gun manufacturer’s lawsuit against the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.
Zoe Berg, Photo Editor
Yale students have called on the University to sever ties with Day Pitney LLP, a law firm that represents both Yale and Remington, a gun manufacturer being sued by the parents of students killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting and has drawn criticism for practices including the subpoena of the academic records of first graders who were killed.
Day Pitney, a national law firm with an office in New Haven, has served as the University’s outside legal counsel in a number of issues, from defamation lawsuits to real estate litigation. However, while benefiting from its association with the University, the firm has represented Remington in a manner that has drawn criticism from the judge in the Sandy Hook case and the Washington Post Editorial Board. Day Pitney’s practices include sending over 30,000 allegedly irrelevant documents, memes and cartoons as part of discovery and subpoenaing the attendance and academic records of the murdered children, as well as employment records of the teachers killed in the shooting.
“You don’t really have to have been involved in gun violence prevention, advocacy or even politics to just find what Day Pitney is doing here so disturbing,” said Matt Post ’22, the co-author of the open letter. “The reason I felt so compelled to get involved is the idea of my tuition dollars being used indirectly for the intimidation [and] harassment of these victims’ families … disgusted me.”
According to Vice President for Communications Nathaniel Nickerson, Day Pitney has represented the University on issues concerning real estate, zoning work and bond offerings. He added that Day Pitney has also served as local counsel defending Yale in an affirmative action lawsuit brought on behalf of Students for Fair Admissions.
Nickerson said that “when Yale learned of this action on Sunday, [University General Counsel Alexander] Dreier expressed his views to the management of Day Pitney in the strongest terms.”
“Yale is waiting to hear what Day Pitney intends to do to address this situation while we consider Yale’s ongoing relationship with the firm,” Nickerson said.
Elizabeth Sher, Day Pitney’s general counsel and partner, told the News that the firm has enjoyed a “long-standing relationship” with Yale, and has been “privileged” to represent the University in a number of legal matters. “We have much respect for the institution, its employees and its students,” Sher wrote in an email to the News.
Sher declined to comment on the Sandy Hook lawsuit, as the litigation is ongoing.
Post emphasized that Day Pitney is failing to hold themselves to the “values that Yale claims to hold” and said that the firm should therefore not be able to profit from its business with the University or “pay their lawyers with [students’] tuition dollars.”
The Sandy Hook families sued Remington Arms in 2014, alleging that the gun manufacturer dangerously marketed a military style weapon — the AR-15 — to the public, in particular targeting younger males prone to violence in its marketing.
Adam Lanza, who was 20 years old at the time of the shooting, used an AR-15 when he killed his mother, 20 elementary school children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012.
“I personally find the decision to subpoena the records of these young children to be completely beyond the pale, and as a practicing lawyer I would never take such an action nor would I allow any lawyer to do so in the course of representing Yale,” Dreier wrote in an email to the News.
In a Sept. 9 editorial, the Washington Post Editorial Board similarly wrote that the lawyer’s decision to subpoena these records is “beyond comprehension.”
In early September, Josh Koskoff, the lawyer for the victims’ families, filed a motion to protect the information revealed by Day Pitney’s subpoena for records related to the Sandy Hook victims.
In Koskoff’s motion, he called into question the motivations behind the demands of Remington’s lawyers — Day Pitney employees. Koskoff declined to comment for this story.
“There is no conceivable way that these children’s ‘application and admission paperwork, attendance records, transcripts, report cards, [and] disciplinary records,’ to name only some of the things sought by the subpoena, will assist Remington in its defense, and the plaintiffs do not understand why Remington would invade the families’ privacy with such a request,” the motion read.
Post described Day Pitney’s justification for demanding these records “bone-chilling.”
Thaddeus Talbot LAW ’22, the other co-author of the open letter, said that the University’s decision to keep Day Pitney as its legal counsel despite its well-documented ethical issues in this case contradicts the ethical and professional rules and guidelines that he is learning at the Yale Law School
“It’s very clear to me that Day Pitney is stretching the outer limits of ethical rules in order to intimidate these families,” Talbot said. “Yale should not be doing business with a law firm that’s willing to stoop this low.”
In 2020, Remington filed for bankruptcy in a move that the plaintiffs in this case argue would prevent the company from paying damages and accepting responsibility for its actions. In July 2021, Remington also offered the plaintiffs a $33 million settlement, coming out to around $3.6 million per family, which the families of the victims have not yet rejected or accepted.
Talbot said that as a result of the settlement not being immediately accepted, Remington is trying to prolong the process enough for the families to drop their case. He said Remington is also trying to use intimidation tactics to get the families to drop their case, with these efforts being conducted by Day Pitney lawyers.
Some, however, argue that there ought to be no restrictions on who a lawyer represents. In 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union condemned Harvard students who successfully protested for a faculty member to lose his position in a residential house following his decision to join Harvey Weinstein’s legal defense team.
Still, 103 people have signed onto the open letter. Post spoke with the News about what he sees as the University’s obligations in this matter.
“So everyone absolutely deserves legal representation,” Post told the News. “But when that legal representation crosses the line into intimidation of the families of murdered first graders … I think [that] is unconscionable.”
He added that this is not a question of right or wrong, as these practices have been widely condemned. The salient question, in his view, is why the University, despite being fully aware of Day Pitney’s practices, chooses to maintain them as legal counsel.
“If harassing the families of children killed and Sandy Hook shooting aligns with Day Pitney’s values, so be it,” Post said. “But as a student here at this University, I certainly don’t think it aligns with Yale’s. I think the people who profit from Yale’s name, who profit from business with Yale, who profit from our tuition dollars should be required to hold themselves to a certain standard of respectable behaviour.”
Day Pitney’s New Haven office is located at 195 Church St.