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Government Ordered to Maintain Expensive Custom Database Shared with Criminal Defendant – eDiscovery Case Law


In the criminal case of United States v. Shabudin, No. 11-cr-00664-JSW-1 (NJV) (N.D. Cal. Apr. 8, 2014), California Magistrate Judge Nandor J. Vadas ordered the Government to continue to provide access to a Relativity Database used by the parties to review documents produced by the Government, instead of discontinuing access for the defendants several weeks before trial was to begin due to budgetary issues.

The Government had voluntarily created the database to manage the vast quantities of documents being produced for discovery in this action, “because it was in its interest to do so”. An agreement had been negotiated between the parties that would allow the defendants to access the database and review discovery documents, and to employ third-party “project managers” for technical and substantive support.  Although the parties stipulated that the database has been “completed” in January of 2013, after more than 9 million documents had been uploaded, the defendants did not gain access until February of 2014.

At some point after beginning to work with the database, the defendants came to realize that not all of the documents produced in the action had been uploaded. Specifically, absent from the database were the contents of three hard drives, and 159 boxes of hard copy material amounting to nearly 1 million pages of documents. Defendants filed a motion to compel the Government to add the missing documents to the database, but, during a hearing on the motion to compel, the Government voluntarily offered to upload 2 of the 3 hard drives, and scan the hard copy materials into the database, asking that they not be ordered to do so.

Following this commitment, the Government indicated for the first time during the proceedings that “the ‘extra cost’ associated with this ‘voluntary’ commitment would draw down on the $1.8 million budget that had been allocated to Database, and ‘for this reason, we anticipate funding for the Database will end” four months from that point. Further, the Government stated that they had looked into “new – and more expensive – alternatives,” namely that they would expend resources to have the materials uploaded to the database within 2 months, and that the defendants would have 2 months to access and review the “old” documents plus the new material, at which point the database would be “transferred to a Concordance database that Defendants could maintain at their own cost.”

The defendants objected to this proposal, and Judge Vadas ordered the Government to provide more information about the effects of transferring the documents to a Concordance database. The Government declared that the cost of the transfer alone would be $118,000, and that it would take 6 to 8 weeks to complete. Further, the Government explained that due to the transfer, some user-created metadata would no longer be viewable or searchable, specifically including “(1) Database user actions (‘audit history’); (2) user searches including save search syntax; (3) image annotations; and (4) Database ‘artifacts’ such as batches, views, or layouts.” The defendants responded that they would “lose our saved searches compiled in files within the database, the very work that we have spent months and many hours putting together. These files essentially represent the virtual entirety of the defense work on the data base.”

Aside from these concerns, when asked when it first explained the possibility that the database could “wind down” before trial, the Government “could not point to a single instance where it had actually informed Defendants that this was a possibility.” Instead, the Government claimed that the “projected” two-year project duration should have been understood by the defendants to have been calculated based on the start of the project in June 2012, rather than the completion of the database as the defendants assumed.

Judge Vadas noted that if the Government had indicated that the database might be shut down prior to trial, and taken this position “when it broached the possibility of using the Database to manage discovery in this case, Defendants would have objected strenuously.” Ultimately, Judge Vadas found that since the Government had “chose to use an eDiscovery platform for this action, selected and managed the eDiscovery provider, and negotiated and agreed to Terms and Conditions for Access to the Database with the Defendants,” and that the Government had never disclosed that the database might wind down, “that winding down the Database before Defendants are ready for trial in December 2014 would prejudice Defendants' ability to prepare for trial and would offend the court's notion of fairness.” Therefore, the Government was ordered to continue to pay for the database through December 2014, and to continue providing the services agreed to in the Terms and Conditions.

So, what do you think? Should the Government have been required to continue to pay for the database, or should exporting it to a Concordance database for the defendants to use have been sufficient? Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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