Last week I received a phone call from an attorney asking what is the authority that says a party has the right to conduct discovery. I responded, “The Discovery Act!” Counsel stated that they needed more because a special master in their construction defect case refused to allow them to serve discovery and was demanding authority to prove that they had such a right. I thought it was such a basic concept in civil litigation that I was amazed that it even was an issue. Nonetheless, I went to the discovery treatises to find the answer.
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Over lunch last week, a local attorney was complaining to me about his case that is going to trial in July. On the last day to serve written discovery, Plaintiff counsel had served each of his five clients, on behalf of each of her three plaintiffs, a separate set of 50 specially prepared interrogatories, 35 requests for documents, 70 requests for admissions and 17.1 of the Form Interrogatories for a total 750 specially prepared interrogatories and 525 requests for documents, 1050 requests for admissions and 4200 responses to Form Interrogatory 17.1 equaling 6525 discovery requests to be responded to 30 days before trial.

After his rant, I said to him that “You Need to file a motion for a protective order.” It was clear to me that the discovery was retaliatory, either because the case didn’t settle the week before at mediation, or that the opposing counsel was a nut job, or perhaps a little of both. Whatever the reason behind this absurd amount of discovery, he needed to file a motion for a protective order.
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Today I read a great article by Minnesota attorney Randall Ryder titled New Attorney? Don’t Get Intimidated by Opposing Counsel. The article struck a cord with me as it is a proponent of the same philosophy that I am advocating in my own blog–don’t be intimidated by a bully, do not react with words in kind and use the “Rules” to win. Here it is and I hope it hits a cord with you too.
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Last spring I had the pleasure of taking a tour of the Royal Globe Theatre in London, England. On display there was a plaque titled “Quoting Shakespeare.” It brought a smile to my face when I read the passage as I realized how much of Shakespeare is in our everyday vernacular. There to I realized how many distinctive quotes there that I use over and over again as a Discovery Referee. Here are a few that you should keep handy to sprinkle into your arguments during your discovery battles.
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As every lawyer is aware, a party may propound more than 35 specially prepared interrogatories or requests for admissions simply by attaching a Declaration of Necessity pursuant to C.C.P. §2030.040 and C.C.P. §2033.040 stating the reasons why they need more. See C.C.P. §2030.050 and C.C.P. §2033.050. However, when you receive more than 35 specially prepared interrogatories or requests for admissions, you should ask yourself the question “IS IT REALLY NECESSARY?”
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Growing up in an Italian household, our dinners consisted of salad, pasta, wine and an argument. Afterwards we all went out for ice cream with no thoughts of the argument that took place at the dinner table. That is because we thought of arguments as a sport and there was no reason to hold any grudges. However, when I became a lawyer I was surprised to find that lawyers did hold grudges despite the fact that law by its nature is an adversarial process and we are professional arguers.
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Nine months after the Special Interrogatories were propounded, the Discovery Referee, found that the plaintiffs had “deliberately misconstrued the question” as to economic damages and determined that “the objections and each of them to be unreasonable, evasive, lacking in legal merit and without justification”. Clement at 1284 The Referee recommended that the motion to compel further responses be granted and that plaintiffs were to reimburse defendant $4,950.00 for legal fees, $40 for filing the motions to compel and $1,642.50 for defendants portion of the Discovery Referee’s fees for a total sanction of $6,632.50. The trial court agreed with the recommendation.
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Attorneys easily spew out the objection “the information you are seeking is not relevant to the subject matter of the litigation” as easily as they say “Good morning.” If you are the propounding party your reaction is probably to be to yell out “It is too relevant!” because it doesn’t even appear that the responding party actually thought it through before spewing out the objection. But what exactly is relevancy? It seems to be a nebulous term that invokes images of catching clouds with your hands or like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography “I know it when I see it”?
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You have been served with the Motion to Compel Further Responses with a Separate Statement of Items in Dispute the size of your fist and your response is due in two weeks. Now what do you do? First, take a deep breath. This is the time you decide when to “hold them and when to fold them” because how you respond may end up setting the tone between you and opposing counsel for the entire case.
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