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Immunity sought in 38 Studios crash

PROVIDENCE — The two top former executives at Rhode Island’s economic development agency want immunity from liability over its failed $75 million investment in Curt Schilling’s video game company because they were public officials who were doing their jobs and following orders, their lawyers said Tuesday.

Former Economic Development Corp. executive director Keith Stokes and deputy director Michael Saul are seeking protection under what their attorneys concede would be an unprecedented expansion of the ‘‘public duty’’ immunity doctrine.

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Saul’s attorney, Bruce Gladstone, told Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein that Saul was following the directions of his superiors, including former Governor Don Carcieri and Stokes, when he helped craft a loan guarantee for 38 Studios that the EDC’s board approved.

If the case against Saul is allowed to go forward, Gladstone said, it would damage public agencies’ ability to attract top talent because potential employees would fear they could be sued ‘‘by the very agency they are trying to help’’ after a new governor comes in and the political climate changes. Governor Lincoln Chafee, Carcieri’s successor, opposed the loan guarantee in 2010 but has said he did everything he could to help the company once he took office.

David Martland, an attorney for Stokes, said his client should be protected under the same immunity.

The EDC, a quasi-public agency in charge of economic development, sued Stokes, Saul, Schilling, other 38 Studios executives, and several others involved in the deal last year after the former Boston Red Sox pitcher’s start-up video game company went bankrupt. The agency accuses the defendants of withholding information and providing false information to the board. The suit alleges fraud, racketeering, and conspiracy, among other things.

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