The Town of Orange is asking a New Haven court to quash a subpoena for more than 50 documents related to the closure of Oregano Joe’s in June. The reports, emails and notices are being sought by an attorney whose client claims he contracted salmonella from the pizzeria.
Attorney Jose Rojas represents Kamran Niazi, a West Haven man who claims he was hospitalized after eating a chicken pizza at the Orange restaurant. Niazi’s medical report constitutes the first confirmed use of “salmonella” in reporting on Oregano Joe’s as Slugoski would not verify the reason for closing the restaurant.
Rojas issued a subpoena for testimony and documents from Town Sanitarian Brian Slugoski to use in Niazi’s civil case against the restaurant.
Town Attorney Vincent Marino, with the Cohen and Wolf law firm, filed an affidavit on Aug. 8 to quash the subpoena. In it, Town Sanitarian Brian Slugoski offers statements about why he feels the information should not be released to the court.
“Based on my interpretation of the law, we are not in a position to release the documents without violating the statutes,” Marino said. He noted the entire situation is unlike anything he’s seen before and agreed that some items seemed like they should be publicly available. However, the wording of the laws protecting patient and investigative data seem to indicate that nothing related to the investigation can be released without opening the town to potential liability.
Marino said it is possible the judge will order some items be made available while protecting others. That would remove the town’s responsibility from disclosure. A hearing is set for Sept. 8 to make that determination.
In most cases, the denial stems from documents containing personal information related to employees at the restaurant, including names and medical information. This information is indeed protected under law.
Previously, Slugoski had denied requests from The Orange Times to provide any information related to the closure, claiming everything related to the investigation was protected. At the time, the only information being sought was the number of reported cases and the nature of the closure.
“On May 22, 2014, my office received two complaints from two town residents who claimed to have become ill after eating out at area restaurants, including Oregano Joes,” Slugoski states in his affidavit supporting the quash order.
He goes on to note that Oregano Joe’s was inspected on May 23. At that time, food samples were collected as well as stool samples from employees.
On May 30, according to the affidavit, Orange Director of Health Dr. Joseph Zelson issued a Notice of Violation and ordered Oregano Joe’s closed. A Conditional Notice of Reopening was issued on May 31.
However, a new notice of violation was posted on June 20. The subject notes for the notice state that the requested document “indicates test results and falsified employee stool samples.” Another notice of violation is noted on June 26.
The subject line for one of the documents, from May 23, notes that it “Indicates information relative to outbreak (sic) of salmonella.”
The documents listed in the quash order request are not available publicly and there contents are not included in the order. The list does however provide subject lines describing the content.
The list also shows who the recipients of each item were. Joseph DeVellis, owner of Oregano Joe’s, appears in the list often, as does Slugoski and Zelson. Members of the Department of Public Health also are named. First Selectman James Zeoli’s name first appears in relation to correspondence about the conditional reopening on May 31.
While it is unknown at this time if the judge in Niazi’s case against Oregano Joe’s will allow the documents, the affidavit to prevent their appearance itself is available for public viewing. You can find it here: http://civilinquiry.jud.ct.gov/DocumentInquiry/DocumentInquiry.aspx?DocumentNo=7927806.
This story will be updated when more information is available.