eDiscovery Daily Blog

Mobile Phone Spoliation Ends Not One, But Two Cases for Kevin Spacey: eDiscovery Case News

If you keep track of Hollywood news, you probably already know this story.  But, as David Horrigan discussed in an article last week, you may not know all the details or what it might mean for future cases.

In Legaltech® News (Commonwealth v. Fowler: What the Kevin Spacey Cases Mean for E-Discovery and the Law), David discusses the case Commonwealth v. Fowler, a criminal prosecution, and a related civil action, Little v. Fowler, stem from sexual assault allegations against the actor Kevin Spacey (whose legal name is Kevin Spacey Fowler).

In allegations that made headlines around the world two years later, an 18-year-old employee of a Nantucket restaurant claimed that, in the summer of 2016, Spacey plied him with alcohol and groped him at the restaurant. Of course, Spacey’s lawyers had a different take, arguing the encounter was a “mutual and consensual flirtation” and that the employee had told Spacey he was 23.  And, also of course, Spacey’s lawyers demanded discovery of the employee’s mobile phone, seeking text, video and Snapchat data from the date of the incident to the date of the discovery request.

Text messages between the employee and his girlfriend – purported to have been sent at the time of the alleged incident – had already been entered into the court record via screenshots. They included descriptions of the alleged incident by the employee and text responses from his girlfriend, including some with multiple emojis.  However, Spacey’s defense counsel argued that some of the text messages had been edited and the employee’s mother, a former Boston television news reporter, admitted that she had deleted some data (which she claimed was unrelated to the alleged incident) from the phone before turning it over to law enforcement.

But, that wasn’t the worst issue related to the phone.  The phone itself disappeared.  Law enforcement notes indicated the mobile phone had been returned to the employee’s family, but the family’s attorney told the court, “My clients do not recall ever receiving the phone.”  And, although the employee’s family said the phone had been backed up, Spacey’s counsel argued that wasn’t good enough and that they were entitled to the phone itself.  When Spacey’s counsel asked the employee whether he knew altering evidence was a crime, the employee invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, which resulted in the charges being dropped in the criminal case (after the civil case had already been dropped a few days before).  No phone = two cases closed.

In his article, David notes several interesting considerations from the cases, ranging from discovery of mobile devices to the use of emojis to the significance of social media (with a Snapchat video being important in the case as well).  Probably his most notable observation was whether the loss of the phone would have thrown out the evidence in the civil case with amended FRCP Rule 37(e) providing that sanctions were available when evidence “cannot be restored or replaced through additional discovery.”  Those phone backups might have led to a different result in the civil case.

I already noted that in our webcast last week (Key eDiscovery Case Law Review for the First Half of 2019), Tom O’Connor and I discussed several cases (including this one, this one and this one) where spoliation and sanctions associated with smartphone ESI were the key issue being addressed.  Chalk up another one.

BTW, speaking of David: As I noted before, I am speaking at ILTACON in a couple of weeks as part of ILTACON’s brand new Litigation Support Day, which features a DAY of SPARK (Short, Provocative, Action-oriented, Realistic, and Knowledgeable) talks by leaders in the industry.  I will be participating in Session One – Litigation Support State of the Union from 9:00-10:30am that day (my talk is slated for approximately 9:35). I will be speaking about legal trends in the industry, with David moderating, so that means recent case law trends that should be interesting.  Do you think mobile device discovery will be one of those trends?  If you’re planning to be at ILTACON, come find out!

So, what do you think?  Would the phone backups have enabled the civil case to continue?  As always, please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Image Copyright © Netflix

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