Defending The Digital Workplace

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Free Pass for Attorneys when it comes to “Monumental” E-Discovery Violations?

The E-Discovery Team (courtesy of Mr. Losey) reported that the Qualcomm Order concerning whether six attorneys would be personally sanctioned for discovery misconduct relating to their defense of their corporate client came down (click here for Mr. Losey’s post). Here is a link to the April 2, 2010 Order. If you’re short on time, read the image that accompanies this post – it reaches the same conclusion.

For those that have not followed or forgotten about this e-discovery saga, it arose out of an order sanctioning Qualcomm and a number of its outside attorneys for failing to produce tens of thousands of relevant and responsive documents during its patent suit against Broadcom.

These documents also consisted of emails and documents that undercut Qualcomm’s position at trial (I hate it when the facts get in the way). Taking a page from the Watergate playbook, Qualcomm then attempted to cover up these documents after they emerged at a critical point in the trial. But at the end of the day, Qualcomm was ordered to pay Broadcom $8,568,633.24 and found that six attorneys personally contributed to what the Court described as a “monumental discovery violation.” See Qualcomm Inc. v. Broadcom Corp. 2008 WL 66932, 13 (S.D.Cal. 2008).

Around March 2008, the case was remanded to the Magistrate Judge for additional consideration and, specifically, to provide the sanctioned attorneys an opportunity to defend their actions. With the benefit of this second-go-around, the finding that these attorneys contributed to a “monumental discovery violation” might have been a little harsh. Or in the words of the Court’s Order declining to hold those six attorneys responsible:

There still is no doubt in this Court’s mind that this massive discovery failure resulted from significant mistakes, oversights, and miscommunication on the part of both outside counsel and Qualcomm employees. The new facts and evidence presented to this Court during the remand proceedings revealed ineffective and problematic interactions between Qualcomm employees and most of the Responding Attorneys during the pretrial litigation, including the commission of a number of critical errors. However, it also revealed that the Responding Attorneys made significant efforts to comply with their discovery obligations. After considering all of the new facts, the Court declines to sanction any of the Responding Attorneys.

While the Qualcomm attorneys were eventually exonerated (although, this may be a quintessential Pyrrhic victory for the attorneys and law firm involved – see this article) it is likely that this case will continue to be the equivalent of “Kaiser Soze” for the legal community, i.e.,  “a spooky story” told as a reminder of what could happen to an attorneys who doesn’t comply with his or her ethical and legal obligations. Right … what could happen ….

In any event, the “major errors”highlighted by the magistrate’s April Order are instructive for both in-house and outside counsel. The first “fundamental problem” was “an incredible breakdown in communication,” which “contributed to all of the other failures.” Other specific failures recognized by the court included a failure to present evidence establishing that any attorney (in-house or outside counsel) explained the legal issues to the appropriate employees or discussed collection procedures; the failure to obtain sufficient information to understand the relevant computer systems; and the failure of any attorney to take on a supervisory responsibility for verifying that the necessary discovery was conducted.

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Written by Jason Shinn

April 6, 2010 at 4:47 pm

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