Suspension recommended for lawyer who sought up to $24M in fees, didn't produce computer
A 30-day suspension is being recommended for a lawyer who said she couldn’t produce computer metadata of time records supporting a multimillion-dollar fee request because she used a “wipe and delete” program each day.
The State Bar of California’s Review Department recommended the suspension for lawyer Lori Jo Sklar in an Oct. 28 opinion (PDF), the Legal Profession Blog reports. The lawyer lives in Minnesota but also has a California law license, the opinion says.
In 2006, Sklar had sought $24 million attorney fees in a class action settlement on behalf of Toshiba computer users who claimed the laptop covers were faulty, according to the Review Department opinion. In 2009 her lawyer said she was seeking $22 million, and in 2010 she said she was seeking $12 million. The $24 million represented only the maximum recovery she could receive, Sklar told the court.
Toshiba sought time records supporting the initial fee request, and Sklar was ordered to produce electronic time records in “native format,” the opinion says. Sklar produced hard copies and Microsoft Word files of the records, but not electronic, searchable copies in native form associated with metadata, according to the opinion. Sklar said she couldn’t produce the records because she scrubbed her computer each day with a “wipe and delete” program that eliminates metadata.
Toshiba sought sanctions, but a judge instead ordered the parties in 2007 to select a neutral expert to search Sklar’s computer backup files and produce material that wasn’t privileged. After Sklar objected, the court entered a protective order stating that any production of electronic information didn’t waive Sklar’s privacy or privilege claims. Sklar continued to object, and she never produced the computer.
A judge imposed a $165,000 sanction for misuse of the discovery process, which was upheld on appeal. The appeals court also upheld the denial of her petition for fees.
The Review Department concluded that Sklar had wrongly told a judge she never sought more than $12 million in fees and she disregarded court orders regarding the inspection of her computer.
“Sklar admits she intentionally did not allow the inspection, but raises a host of arguments as justification,” the Review Department opinion said. “She primarily claims the judge’s orders were never properly signed or served, and no protocols were in place to protect confidential/privileged information. Like the superior court, the Court of Appeal, and the hearing judge, we find no merit to these arguments. …
“Sklar cannot disregard court orders because she believes they are invalid, even if she has a personal good faith reason to do so.”
Sklar had disputed nearly every factual finding in the civil case as well as the disciplinary proceedings, but the Review Board determined her challenges had no merit.
The Review Board noted that Sklar had no prior discipline over many years of practice, and 14 witnesses said she was of good character. The board recommended a 30-day actual suspension and a one-year stayed suspension.
Sklar points out there is no final judgment in the ethics case and tells the ABA Journal that she is appealing.