iStock_000016672124XSmall-1.jpgI recently received an e-mail from a pro-per who asked me

“ Is there any chance you can send me a link to an example “meet & confer” declaration form”

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Judicial Council form where you could check the boxes on such a form and be done with it? The judge should just assume that you did what needed to be done and grant your motion. Isn’t that the way it should be? I mean, really, aren’t we all professionals and if you say that you met and conferred in good faith your word should be enough. Right? Not quite…

The purpose of the “meet and confer” requirements set forth in C.C.P. §§ 2025.450(b)(2)(pdf)), 2025.480(pdf), 2030.300(b)(pdf), 2031.310(b)(pdf)2032.250(pdf) and 2033.290(pdf) was for the lawyers to revisit their position, in good faith discuss a resolution and avoid unnecessary discovery motions.

Unfortunately, times have changed since the Discovery Act of 1986 went into effect. No longer can a law firm afford to have an associate sit at the knees of a respected senior partner and watch and listen and not bill. No longer do lawyers have time for the “two martini” lunch in order to get input from their colleagues about cases they are having trouble with. No longer is the legal community so small that you know you are going to see opposing counsel again and fear their retaliation.

For the last twenty years, many of us, had to learn how to litigate by doing and suffering the repercussions. Bad habits, abuse and inaccuracies regarding the law have begat more bad habits, abuses and inaccuracies. It seems like more and more cases are doing battle in the gutter then in the courtrooms. This is most evident in the in the discovery battles and the failure of counsel to “meet and confer” in good faith.

Despite a party’s threat that they will seek sanctions, no court is going to award sanctions if you don’t meet and confer in good faith and in fact will sanction you if you don’t.  See C.C.P. §2033.290 (pdf)

The leading case on “meet and confer” requirements is Obregon v. Superior Court (1998) 67 CA4th 424 (pdf). The Second Appellate District stated that in determining whether a party has met and conferred in good faith the court should consider the following relevant factors:

1.The history of the case and the past conduct of counsel as it reflects upon the bona fides of their efforts;

2. the nature and extent of the actual efforts expended;

3. the nature of the discovery requested and its importance to the case;

4. the size and complexity of the case;

5. the effect of expense upon litigation of the case; and

6. whether or not the discovery propounded would be so expensive for the other side that itsintent was to force settlement other then to reach the merits of the case. Obregon at 431.

Obregon is a helpful case for the court’s, but what about the litigants. What should they be doing? According to Townsend v. Superior Court (1998) 61 CA 4th 1431 at 1439 (pdf),

“a reasonable and good faith attempt at informal resolution entails something more than bickering with [opposing] counsel . . . Rather, the law requires that counsel attempt to talk the matter over, compare their views, consult, and deliberate.” [Emphasis added]

In order to meet this standard, each side has their own responsibilities. These are my suggestions:

PROPOUNDING PARTY

First:  Once you have determined that you will need supplemental responses to you propounded discovery, call opposing counsel and set up a time to meet in person. Tell him/he that you will prepare a written response to his objections so you can go through them.

Second:  Review your requests and determine whether or not the objections are valid. Prepare your written “meet and confer” letter in the format of a Separate Statement of Items in Dispute (pdf).  That way you are ready to file your motion to compel further responses, if it becomes necessary. Remember a  “single brief letter” with no explanation why the discovery was proper does not constitute a reasonable and good faith attempt at informal resolution. See Obregon  at 432.

Third:  Prepare a draft protective order to bring to the meeting if any objections are as to privacy, trade secrets, etc.

Fourth:  Consider bringing in a discovery referee to mediate the discovery disputes, do an in camera review and/or to make a finding if necessary.

Fifth:  Make sure you get a written stipulation extending your time to bring a motion to compel further responses. The meet and confer process DOES NOT extend the 45 Day limit within which the propounding party must file a motion to compel further responses.  See Vidal Sassoon, Inc. v. Superior Court (1983) 147 Cal. App. 3d 681 at 683-684 (pdf).

At the meeting:

  • Propose a protective order;
  • Ask for authorizations for third party custodian of records instead of the document request; and/or
  • Agree to narrow the scope of discovery by issues, time, location, etc.

RESPONDING PARTY

First:  Offer or agree to an in person meeting to meet and confer.

Second:  Prior to the meeting, revisit your objections and determine whether any are garbage objections.  If any are, offer to withdraw them.

Third:  Determine what is your real complaint to the discovery requests:

  • If vague and ambiguous, offer definitions and/or a revised version which you will answer.
  • If overbroad and burdensome, then offer a revised version narrowing the scope and/or offer signed authorizations to third party custodian of records.
  • If you are objecting on grounds of privacy, trade secrets, etc., prepare a protective order  and bring it to the meeting.

At the meeting:  offer your compromises and don’t try and defend your garbage objections.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Litigators need to put down the sword and talk to one another when the discovery battles begin. These battles cost your clients money and you too much time and angst.