Discovery

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Catchy blog titles are usually hard too, but not this one. Discovery of electronically stored information (“ESI”) is just plain difficult. If you are lucky, it does not come up in your case at all. Or, the parties agree that only certain emails during a certain period of time are relevant to the dispute. If you are unlucky, you might find yourself in the middle of a massive theft of trade secrets case involving customer lists with thousands of names and an email address for each one of them. At that point, expect to spend several months creating an ESI discovery protocol with your opposing counsel – a process of negotiating everything from search terms to custodian/device lists to hard drive/server copying formats, and so on and so forth. Once that part is finished, you still have to engage in discovery according to the protocol.

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This series of posts is on seeking redress against a Chinese company that owes you money or has wronged you. Part I was on Hague Convention service of process on a Chinese company and jurisdiction. This post is on how to conduct discovery against a Chinese company.

Once you have served a Chinese company in a U.S. lawsuit, it will be bound by the court’s normal discovery rules. China, however, prohibits depositions on its soil, even if the deponent consents. In its declaration on accession to the Hague Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil and Commercial Matters, China stated it would not be bound by those provisions granting consular officers the right to oversee depositions. In 1989, China allowed a deposition in U.S. v. Leung Tak Lun, et al., 944 F.2d 642 (9th Cir. 1991), but advised that its grant of authority for that particular deposition should not be considered precedent, and it has not permitted a deposition since. Conducting a deposition in China may lead to arrest or expulsion. Even a telephonic deposition of a witness in China likely violates Chinese law, and would not be a good idea for anyone planning to go to China.

The easiest way to depose a China‐based witness will usually be to have that witness go to the United States or to Hong Kong for deposition…

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Gavel

On September 17, the U.S. Tax Court, in Dynamo Holdings LP v. Commissioner, 143 T.C. No. 9 (Sept. 17, 2014), held that a taxpayer could use predictive coding, over the objection of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to identify relevant electronically stored information (ESI) for production. This is the first Tax Court case to address the use of predictive coding in response to a discovery request.

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Look, e-discovery is not going away. Doc review (at least English language doc review) will never be high paying or sexy. But, as e-discovery becomes more and more prevalent, it will continue to become a larger part of the legal job market. So, how do you get out of the rut of sitting in a windowless room, making $10 an hour (or less), typing the date of each e-mail you read into the date field of your coding software? How about taking your knowledge of the front line ESI issues (document coding) and learn a little bit about managing ESI projects, starting with how to draft discovery? As we learned yesterday, ESI discovery can be tricky and employers mostly know that, so understanding the concepts behind it can help you move through your career.

Since Bryan Garner was just in my town last weekend, and I’ve been spending a lot of time drafting ESI discovery requests and dealing with  opposing counsel’s requests, I have been thinking a lot about drafting proper ESI discovery requests, including proper wording…

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Rock, paper, scissors . . .
Pick one, unless you are Bart,
‘cuz nothing beats rock!

One of my all-time favorite eDiscovery cases (which isn’t actually about eDiscovery) came out a few years ago out of the somewhat-obscure Middle District of Florida. On June 6, 2006, in Avista Management, Inc., vs. Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co., Judge Gregory Presnell ordered two Tampa lawyers who had been unable to resolve their dispute over the location of an upcoming deposition to meet at the end of the month on the courthouse steps and “[A]t that time and location, counsel shall engage in one (1) game of “rock, paper, scissors.” The winner of this engagement shall be entitled to select the location[.]”

One could presume that the order was motivated by Judge Parnell’s desire to provide the USARPS (motto: “America’s Official Rock, Paper, Scissors League”) with what is almost certainly its first – and last- opportunity to opine publicly about the dangers posed to our civil litigation system from the unregulated use of weapons of mass gaming: “I guarantee you right now,” Mr. Leshem [head of the US Rock, Paper, Scissors League] said, “that both lawyers will open with paper. Lawyers open with paper 67 percent of the time, because they deal with so much paper.”

Mr. Leshem offered to officiate the match. “What I don’t want,” he said, “is some rogue element of rock-paper-scissors coming down from the bench. When the law takes rock-paper-scissors into its own hands, mayhem can occur.”

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She’s coming down with a bad case of ‘going to get a pony.’

Remember the “affluenza” kid? His name is Ethan Couch and the teenager went on an alcohol-fueled joyride after a party in the mansion his parents had bought for him. The joyride resulted in the death of 4 people and the injury of multiple others as alcohol-fueled joyrides are wont to do. Except Couch avoided the fate of pretty much any other person who might kill 4 people on the back of a clinical psychologist’s expert opinion that Couch suffered from a mental condition that he coined as “affluenza” — basically as a rich, privileged tool, the kid couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.

Most people found this ridiculous. Elie went so far as to call for the parents to be jailed. Which has a certain Nancy Grace-style emotional appeal, but also kind of feeds the argument that this kid himself should continue to remain shielded from the consequences of his actions. It also fans the flames of the same parent-policing logic that ends with people getting arrested for letting their kids play outside. But in any event, the fact that a juvenile system judge with a reputation for harsh punishments for poor, black kids — she sent a 14-year-old black kid to jail for 10 years for punching a kid who fell and hit his head resulting in his death — sent a 16-year-old, rich, white kid willfully driving drunk to a country club rehab facility — conveniently paid for mostly by taxpayers — exposed everything wrong with privilege in America.

Now the case raises another debate about privilege. One of the victims who survived the accident is suing and wants to see exactly how this clinical psychologist came to his groundbreaking diagnosis that rich kids don’t have to go to jail, and Couch’s lawyers are fighting that disclosure tooth and nail….

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Litigators get away with a lot of obnoxious stuff during discovery. For better or worse, the pre-trial discovery phase of civil litigation is every lawyer’s opportunity to relive those times when parents leave kids alone for the first time: every slight, disagreement, and jealousy on a slow boil explodes into anarchic back-biting once there’s no authority figure around to enforce civility. Bring on the mean-spirited letters and smack-talking RFAs.

When it comes to depositions, it doesn’t always reach “fatboy” levels, but a federal deposition isn’t a deposition until someone threatens to call the magistrate — though never does.

Which is why this benchslap, where a federal judge levies a sanction straight out of elementary school, is so appropriate….

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Rarely are the stakes of a benchslap elevated to the level of life and death.

And yet, a federal judge made just such a life and death call recently in swatting down an annoying lawyer wasting the court’s time with a litany of discovery disputes.

Thankfully, despite the stakes it’s a pretty funny benchslap….

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Isn’t discovery fun?

You sometimes hear Biglaw litigators complain about courts not publishing enough opinions about discovery issues. Discovery (especially e-discovery) is such a major — and majorly expensive — part of the complex litigation in which large firms specialize, but there aren’t that many decisions on the books over such nuts-and-bolts issues as responsiveness, privilege, and work-product doctrines.

So it’s noteworthy that the Massachusetts Appeals Court just issued an opinion featuring extended discussion of the work-product doctrine. Some Boston Biglaw litigators will surely welcome the additional guidance on this subject.

But not all of Boston Biglaw will be pleased by this decision. Certainly not the major firm that could wind up getting hit with sanctions as a result….

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It’s the nightmare scenario of every discovery: what if the client forged all these documents? There really are very few checks upon your own client beyond crafting careful instructions and trusting that it dutifully fulfilled all of them in gathering documents for your review (or at least your contractors’ review). Hounding the client for assurances can only go so far if the client is committed to deceiving the tribunal.

That’s the nightmare a Biglaw firm just faced, and after the firm won a big jury verdict in its client’s favor, the truth came out. How would the firm react?

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