Tables Turned

I spent too long, from April 1996 until June 2011, working in two large Philadelphia defense firms defending all manner of civil actions. An important part of this work was processing plaintiff’s discovery requests. I began with the proposition that discovery should be answered promptly, in a reasonably complete manner, with responsive materials either produced immediately, or soon afterwards, subject to the terms of a protective order. I soon learned that this was not the approved way to go, both in terms of billable hours (my way was too quick, too efficient, too inexpensive for the client), and in what the partners perceived as good litigation practice.

Instead, the approved drill was to wait until about three days before the deadline, then request at least another 30 day extension, and then crank out boilerplate responses that consisted of 7/8 objections, with the remainder comprising information that the plaintiff probably already had about the incident. I like to think that my approach to discovery while at Big Law was more accommodating than this, but without the actual responses in front of me, maybe not.  Perhaps because of the pressure on defense firms to maintain billable hours during the ongoing legal recession, it seems that discovery response tactics have grown more blatant.

So it is with some irony that I find myself representing two deserving plaintiffs in a civil rights action, where defense counsel did the following: (1) insist on a confidentiality agreement governing Internal Affairs records for the police officer defendants, before discovery began; (2) demand a six week extension to serve responses to my requests for production of documents; (3) admit, in the belated responses, that two of the officers in question had IA records for excessive use of force; and then (4) refuse to produce those records, on grounds that ANOTHER confidentiality agreement was required before those materials would see the light of day.

A U.S. Magistrate rejected position (4) last week, asking defense counsel, “How could you think that?” but this did not stop the nonsense. Counsel then took the position that she could not produce the IA documents in question because she had not seen them yet.  Today, eight days after the Magistrate’s warning, I was advised that the IA documents have still not been located, but that if they contain information that defense counsel finds to be irrelevant or incorrect, they will still be withheld.

I gave counsel two days to produce the materials, after which I will file a Motion to Compel. It would probably make the most sense to start drafting that document now…


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