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TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court addresses objection to discovery request based on revealing confidential information, court order

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (2) the order authorizes the disclosure of information protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (3) the order authorizes the disclosure of confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Privileged or Confidential Information

The [Producing Party] also contend[s] that the discovery order improperly authorizes the disclosure of (1) information protected by the attorney-client privilege and (2) confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

Notwithstanding the “unlimited” access necessarily granted the forensic expert, Respondent’s order preserves any privileged or confidential information in several ways. First, the expert is limited in his search to two specific documents or iterations of those documents. [Members of the Producing Party] are then accorded the right to review the documents and information which the expert believes responsive and produce to [Requesting Party] only those documents and information which [members of the Producing Party] themselves believe are responsive. These provisions effectively preclude [Requesting Party] from having any access to documents or information pertaining to other clients of the Honzas not involved in this litigation.

Second, the order allows the [Producing Party executives] to withhold from discovery any documents or information which they claim to be privileged or confidential and provide instead a privilege log, subject to in camera review by Respondent.

Finally, the order provides that: (1) the observation of information by [Requesting Party] representatives during the imaging process shall not constitute a waiver of privilege or confidentiality; (2) all participants in the imaging process are subject to a protective order prohibiting the unauthorized disclosure of information; and (3) [Requesting Party’s] expert must provide proof of being bonded and of having commercial liability insurance by which the [Producing Party] may be “fully indemnified against any monetary loss.”

For these reasons, we hold that Respondent appropriately tailored the discovery order to prohibit the unauthorized disclosure of privileged or confidential information and no abuse of discretion is shown.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

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Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Collection, Data Custodians, Data Sources, Discovery Requests, Duty to Produce, Objections to Discovery Requests, Privacy, Privilege, Privilege Log, Scope of Discovery, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court addresses objection to ‘overly broad’ discovery requests, court order

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (1) the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition”;…

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Overbroad Discovery

The [Producing Party] first contend that the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition.” In this regard, they argue that Respondent improperly “gave blanket approval for [the Requesting Party] to gain total access to [their] computers and all information stored on them, whether or not it has anything to do with this lawsuit.”

Although it is true that Respondent’s order gives A & W’s forensic expert [FN8]complete access to all data stored on the Honzas’ computers, the order provides that the expert is to index all forensic images acquired from the imaging process “for the limited purpose of searching (the ‘Examination Process’) for two documents, previously Bates-labeled as HONZA 00019 and HONZA 00017, which are drafts of “Assignment of Contract” and any iterations (the ‘Relevant Documents’).” The expert must then compile any documents or information which the expert believes responsive and deliver them to the Honzas to determine for themselves which are responsive to A & W’s discovery request and which they choose to withhold, providing a privilege log instead.

In addition to limiting the expert’s search to two specific documents, the order provides that no waiver of privilege or confidentiality occurs if any otherwise privileged or confidential information is observed by A & W’s counsel or representatives during the imaging process, and they are prohibited from using such information other than in compliance with the terms of the order. The forensic expert is likewise prohibited from disclosing any information observed during the imaging process. And finally, the order requires the expert and all party representatives or counsel participating in the imaging process to sign an acknowledgment agreeing that they are subject to contempt of court for any violation of the order.

Any order requiring the imaging of a computer hard drive necessarily grants the expert who is conducting the imaging process access to all data on that hard drive. Here, Respondent specifically limited the expert’s search to two documents; gave the [Producing Party] a “right of first refusal” with regard to determining which documents or information are relevant to those two documents and responsive to [Requesting Party’s] discovery request; imposed stringent limitations on inadvertent disclosures to prevent any unintended waiver of confidentiality or privilege; and placed all participants in the imaging process under a carefully drawn protective order.

Therefore, we do not agree with the Honzas’ contention that the discovery order is overbroad.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Custodians, Data Sources, Discovery Requests, Duty to Produce, Form of Production, Objections to Discovery Requests, Overly Broad Request, Privacy, Scope of Discovery, State Courts, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »

TX Case Blurb: Honza; Court outlines process for Forensic Expert’s access to Party’s hard drive and subsequent production

Posted by rjbiii on March 10, 2008

[Producing Party members] seek a writ of mandamus compelling Respondent, the Honorable Greg Wilhelm, Judge of the County Court at Law No. 1 of Ellis County, to set aside a discovery order requiring the Honzas to permit a forensic expert to create a mirror image of each of the computer hard drives in the Honzas’ office in an effort to locate two particular documents or iterations of those documents

The Honzas contend that Respondent abused his discretion because: (1) the discovery order is overbroad and authorizes an improper “fishing expedition”; (2) the order authorizes the disclosure of information protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (3) the order authorizes the disclosure of confidential information pertaining to the Honzas’ other clients who have no connection to the underlying lawsuit.

The present discovery dispute originated with [Requesting Party’s] motion to gain access to the Honzas’ computers, which was filed about one month before trial. By this motion, [Requesting Party] sought “[i]nformation (the ‘Metadata’) contained on the actual computers of the Defendants, such as any time stamps on the Relevant Documents, versions of the Relevant Documents, if any, as well as the deletion of various versions, if any.” [Requesting Party] explained that, although the Honzas responded to a prior request for production of relevant documents in their electronic version, “the Metadata was neither produced nor made available.”

[Ed. Testimony indicated the existence of relevant documents with respect to a another transaction apparently not addressed by earlier discovery requests]

[] [Requesting Party] sought discovery of relevant documents pertaining to the [newly revealed] transaction, and the [Producing Party] complied by providing pertinent written discovery.

[Requesting Party] seeks the metadata from the [Producing Party’s] hard drives because it wants to identify the points in time when the partial assignment draft was modified in relation to the diary entry. This goes to the issue of whether [the Producing Party] altered the partial assignment after the parties concluded their agreement but before the document was presented for execution.

[Ed. The opinion then went on to list various Federal and State sources for persuasive authority in discovery law, especially with respect to ESI]

Under these decisions, the following protocol is generally followed. First, the party seeking discovery selects a forensic expert to make a mirror image of the computer hard drives at issue. This expert is required to perform the analysis subject to the terms of a protective order, generally prohibiting the expert from disclosing confidential or otherwise privileged information other than under the terms of the discovery order.

After creating the mirror images and analyzing them for relevant documents or partial documents, courts typically require the expert to compile the documents or partial documents obtained and provide copies to the party opposing discovery. That party is then to review the documents, produce those responsive to the discovery request, and create a privilege log for those withheld. Finally, the trial court will conduct an in-camera review should any disputes arise regarding the entries in the privilege log.

Because our research has disclosed no Texas decisions regarding this type of electronic discovery, we will apply these fairly uniform procedures to the issues presented in this proceeding.

[Ed. Note that a dissenting opinion is also entered by one of the Judges hearing the case. See the order itself for the full text of that dissent, or of the opinion itself.]

In re Honza, 2007 WL 4591917 (Tex. App. Dec. 28, 2007)

Posted in Case Blurbs, Computer Forensics, Data Collection, Data Custodians, Duty to Produce, Objections to Discovery Requests, Privacy, Privilege, Privilege Log, Scope of Discovery, State Courts, Texas, TX Judge Felipe Reyna | Leave a Comment »