Information Obtained At Interview, And Interview Notes, Protected By Work Product Privilege

The only place that you are likely to find a written opinion from a North Carolina Court on a discovery issue is from the Business Court.  Those kinds of interlocutory issues just don't get addressed by appellate courts. 

So, here's a post about a (very) short June 10, 2008 Order in Harco National Insurance Co. v. BDO Seidman, LLP, on an interesting work product issue.

In Harco, the general counsel of the Defendant, an accounting firm, sent a representative to interview one of the key players in the audit that was at issue in the lawsuit. 

The Plaintiff deposed both the interviewer and the person interviewed.  The Defendant balked, however, when Plaintiff's counsel asked the interviewer questions about the objectives of the interview and whether certain questions had been asked at the interview.  The Defendant also refused to produce the interviewer's notes.  The Defendant contended that all of this information was protected by the work product privilege.  Plaintiff filed a Motion to Compel.

According to Defendant's Brief in opposition to the Motion, some of the objectionable questions were whether the interviewer had conducted the interview with particular questions in mind, whether she had focused on particular areas of the audit, whether she showed the interviewee particular documents, and what conclusions she reached after the interview.

Judge Tennille denied the Motion, holding that the interviewer (Ms. Lister):

declined to answer questions which called for her mental impressions and litigation strategy based upon attorney-client privilege and work product. Ms. Lister conducted the interview at the direction and under the supervision of the General Counsel of BDO in order to prepare BDO’s defense to the claims asserted in the lawsuit. The Court concludes that the limited amount of information withheld by Ms. Lister was protected as attorney work product under N.C. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3). Harco elicited testimony about what was said and done at the interview. The information it now seeks relates to impressions and opinions Ms. Lister formed and conveyed to BDO’s General Counsel. Harco has not demonstrated any hardship as it has obtained discovery of the underlying facts. Harco’s Motion to Compel is denied.

Plaintiff's Brief in support of its Motion isn't available because it was filed under seal, but its Reply Brief is here.  The link to Defendant's Brief is above.

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