There was an article in the ABA Journal a few months ago about the Judges who are the "rock stars" of electronic discovery issues. Two of those Judges, Paul Grimm of the District of Maryland and David Waxse of the District of Kansas, formed a "rock star trio" with Judge Tennille on an ABA panel earlier this year.
The subject was ethical issues in e-discovery. You can download the whole presentation on the ABA website for a more than nominal fee. But if you don’t want to do that, here’s some of what Judge Tennille had to say:
As Judge Tennille sees it, the "most important rule for lawyers’ from an ethical perspective is Rule 1.1, which is "Competence." That Rule requires "the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation." According to Judge Tennille, state court judges are looking to the lawyers and expecting them to present solutions to e-discovery issues. As he put it, Judges are saying “I expect you to have the knowledge to handle this problem. I expect you to meet and confer with each other and tell me how you’re going to solve this problem.”
Judge Tennille referenced a Business Court case where the lawyers for a party turned over a mirrored hard drive to opposing counsel, and then had to scramble when it turned out that there were privileged documents on the hard drive. Using that example, Judge Tennille said “You really have a very basic obligation to be compeltent in this area. And in my view, being competent does not mean turning your client’s hard drive over to the other side.” So, reaching agreement in advance to deal with this type of situation, and including a clawback provision providing for the return of privileged documents, is a part of that competence. (Although Judge Tennille didn’t name the case, it is Judge Diaz’ opinion in International Legwear Group, Inc. v. Legassi International Group, Inc.)
The seminar turned to a discussion of the California case (Qualcomm) sanctioning lawyers for their failure to turn over a substantial quantity of emails and misrepresenting the situation to the Court, and Rule 3.3’s duty of "Candor Toward The Tribunal." Judge Tennille said “I think the best rule for you to keep in mind is not to follow the old suggestion that it is easier to ask foregiveness than permission. If you have a question, you ask for permission first. Because it’s really not worth risking your law license to ask for foregiveness later.”
On the subject of lawyers who play fast and loose with e-discovery, Judge Tennille said: “I think judges generally try to look at it from the standpoint of when we’re trying to determine if somebody is gaming the system, we look at process and motivation and if you’ve got a good process and we don’t have any question about your motivation, you’re not going to be in trouble. If you haven’t used a good process or we have any question about your motivation or the client’s motivation and what they did, chances are that we’re going to determine that you were gaming the system and your client will suffer from that, 99 times out of a 100.”
And then Judge Tennille said something that seems so easy to understand: "The best test is your common sense. And if you use it you’ll stay out of trouble. if you don’t, there’s going to be a judge somewhere who will penalize you for not using your common sense.”
Judge Tennille has written two Business Court opinions on the subject of e-discovery, Analog Devices, Inc. v. Michalski, 2006 NCBC 14 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 1, 2006) and Bank of America Corporation v. SR International Business Insurance Company, Ltd., 2006 NCBC 15 (N.C. Super. Ct. Nov. 1, 2006), but that is still a largely uncharted territory in North Carolina’s state courts.
The image at the top is from xkcd.com, edited.