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Privilege Log Identifies Additional Documents to be Produced by Defendant: eDiscovery Case Law

In U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission v. Commonwealth Advisors, Inc. et. al., No. 12-700 (M.D. La., Sept. 28, 2015), Louisiana Magistrate Judge Stephen C. Riedlinger ordered the defendants to produce additional documents that were identified on the defendants’ privilege log, but for which the defendants had waived attorney-client privilege.

Case Background

In this case, the district judge submitted a previous ruling that by December 2014, the defendants must “submit to the Plaintiff a revised privilege log that is in compliance with Fed.r.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(A) and must produce to Plaintiff all documents for which the attorney client privilege has been waived by the assertion of the advice-of counsel defense.”  The defendants provided the plaintiff with revised privilege logs and produced some responsive documents, but the plaintiff asserted that the defendants had failed to produce all of the documents for which it had waived the attorney-client privilege, noting several documents were still included on the privilege log that related to “advice”.

Additionally, the plaintiff was provided with a production that did not redact purportedly privileged information from the original native-format files or from the searchable text metadata that was used to identify and locate specific documents.  Based on the examination of the metadata for selected documents, and a comparison of the metadata with the image file, the plaintiff believed that additional responsive material might be found on other redacted documents as well.  The defendants characterized the plaintiff’s revelation as “reconstructing the redacted portions of documents from metadata that was inadvertently included by a third-party vendor – a vendor made necessary by the SEC’s demand that all files be produced in a certain electronic format.”

As a result of these issues, the plaintiff moved to compel production of the remaining documents.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “the day after the Plaintiff’s Second Motion to Compel was filed the defendants advised the plaintiff that there was a problem with their production”, Judge Riedlinger stated that “by demanding that the plaintiff delete all of the incorrectly produced materials, which the plaintiff agreed to do, the defendants effectively failed to comply with the Ruling and Order” (from December 2014).  “Defendants’ otherwise timely production cannot be considered so when they demand a significant part of it — in terms of both volume and content — not be examined and also be deleted.”

Noting that, in his original order, the district judge “did not disagree with the determination that defendants’ privilege logs (provided up to that time) were wholly inadequate to sustain their assertion of the attorney-client privilege”, Judge Riedlinger found that “Defendants revised privilege logs are, overall, now less reliable than the ones they previously produced because they include insufficient and sometimes misleading document descriptions. Plaintiff has persuasively shown that the defendants improperly redacted at least two specific documents (Exhibits J and K), and there is good cause to believe there are more improperly redacted documents.”

As a result, Judge Riedlinger stated:

“The current circumstances support finding that the defendants waived their attorney-client privilege and should be required to produce all previously-withheld documents.  They failed to take any reasonable steps to prevent the disclosure of claimed still-privileged information by the manner of their December production. Only after the plaintiff brought it to their attention in this motion, filed more than six weeks later, did they do anything about it. Defendants provided deficient and sometimes misleading revised privilege logs which, overall, are not reliable. Defendants knowingly redacted materials which are subjects of their advice-ofcounsel attorney-client privilege waiver, and intentionally did not produce one document until they determined it was in their interest to do so. And lastly, but importantly, in these circumstance it is simply unfair to the plaintiff to allow the defendants to assert a broad advice-of-counsel defense, interpret it narrowly, and then based on their narrow interpretation withhold information and documents relevant to that defense.”

As a result, Judge Riedlinger granted the plaintiff’s motion to compel and ordered the defendants to “produce to the plaintiff, within 21 days, all documents withheld on the basis of attorney-client privilege, whether solely or in part.”

So, what do you think?  Did the defendants’ discovery failures cost them privilege assertions on some documents?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

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