Legal Ethics

Six Lawyers Referred to Calif. Bar for Qualcomm Discovery Abuse

A federal magistrate has referred six lawyers to the State Bar of California for possible discipline because of discovery violations in their representation of Qualcomm Inc. in a patent infringement dispute.

Five of the lawyers are from Day Casebeer Madrid & Batchelder, and one is from Heller Ehrman, the Recorder reports.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Major ordered Qualcomm to pay its opponent’s legal fees of $8.5 million, saying the company withheld tens of thousands of e-mails. The lawyers, she said, had a responsibility to ensure that Qualcomm conducted a comprehensive and responsive document search. Instead, the lawyers at the very least were willfully ignorant of the discovery violations, she said.

“Producing 1.2 million pages of marginally relevant documents while hiding 46,000 critically important ones does not constitute good faith and does not satisfy either the client’s or attorney’s discovery obligations,” Major wrote in her order (PDF posted by the Recorder).

“The sanctioned attorneys assisted Qualcomm in committing this incredible discovery violation by intentionally hiding or recklessly ignoring relevant documents, ignoring or rejecting numerous warning signs that Qualcomm’s document search was inadequate, and blindly accepting Qualcomm’s unsupported assurances that its document search was adequate,” Major wrote. “The sanctioned attorneys then used the lack of evidence to repeatedly and forcefully make false statements and arguments to the court and jury.”

The Day Casebeer lawyers who were sanctioned are James Batchelder, Adam Bier, Kevin Leung, Christian Mammen and Lee Patch, the legal newspaper reports. The sanctioned Heller Ehrman lawyer is Stanley Young.

Major also ordered the sanctioned lawyers to participate in a “comprehensive case review and enforcement of discovery obligations program.” She did not assess a monetary fine against the sanctioned lawyers, citing limits to her authority. She said the lawyers may ultimately face a financial hit, however, if Qualcomm seeks contribution from its lawyers for the monetary penalty it pays.

“While no one can undo the misconduct in this case, this process, hopefully, will establish a baseline for other cases,” Young wrote. “Perhaps it also will establish a turning point in what the court perceives as a decline in and deterioration of civility, professionalism and ethical conduct in the litigation arena.”

Day Casebeer partner Paul Grewal told the legal newspaper the firm was disappointed in the court’s conclusions and said its lawyers always hold themselves to the highest standards of professional advocacy. Heller Ehrman partner Lawrence Keeshan said the firm believes the sanction of Stanley Young was unwarranted, since attorney-client privilege prevented him from telling his whole story to the court. He said the firm is pleased that other Heller Ehrman lawyers were not sanctioned.

Subsequent coverage: “After Sanctions Are Lifted, Qualcomm Lawyers React: This ‘Can Happen to Anybody’ “ “Judge Finds No Bad Faith by Qualcomm Lawyers, Lifts Discovery Sanctions”

Updated on Jan. 2, 2012, to include subsequent coverage.

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