Documents Kept in the . . . Irregular Course of Business?

In yet another example of why records managers should be coordinating with legal on storage of documents, the U.S. Federal Court of Claims has held that documents archived in a manner other than the regular course of business do not comply with Rule 34 of the FRCP. 

In Ak-Chin Indian Community v. United States, 85 Fed. Cl. 397 (2009), documents stored in a different filing system than they were kept prior to transfer to storage were held not to have been kept in the ordinary course of business.  In that case, the plaintiffs were suing the government and wanted to get their hands on responsive documents kept in a bunch of boxes at the American Indian Records Repository (AIRR).  The boxes were indexed using an off-the-shelf commercial software package that "captures information about the source, files, and documents in [each] box [which information is subsequently] entered into the . . . database."  Id. at 398.  People digging around the database for, say, documents responsive to discovery requests, could run queries to search for them.  Id.  So, when served with discovery requests, the government turned to its handy database, ran a few queries to find the boxes that likely contained responsive documents, and sent the database query results along to the plaintiffs.  Id. at 399.  The plaintiffs filed a motion to compel, arguing that this didn't constitute a production of responsive documents organized and labeled by category of request as required by Rule 34 of the Rules of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.  Id. 

Under Rule 34, "[a] party must produce documents as they are kept in the ordinary course of business or must organize and label them to correspond to the categories in the request."  Id. (quoting RCFC 34(b)(2)(E)(i)).  The Ak-Chin court held that the documents at the AIRR were not maintained in the ordinary course of business under Rule 34, because prior to transfer to the facility, they were reorganized from the filing system of the local agency offices to conform with the AIRR filing system (not wholly surprising, considering that AIRR was a records repository and records are not always in tip-top shape, organizationally-speaking, when they are first unearthed from the mess that makes up most people's filing cabinets). Id.  The court explained that "documents in storage are no longer in the usual course of business, they are kept in the usual course of storage," such that the only option under Rule 34 was to label and categorize the documents.  Id. at 400.  For documents transported to storage to still be kept in the ordinary course of business, the court said, the documents must be stored in the same way they were kept.  Id. The court was also concerned that the filing system at AIRR did not permit a meaningful review if the plaintiff was dissatisfied with the production.  Id. at 401.  Because only the boxes were indexed, not the specific documents in the boxes, the government was out of luck.  Id.

Take home message? Know just how your documents are arranged in storage in relation to how they're kept before they're retired to archives, boxes, and closets or you may incur additional costs to produce them.

Tax-exempt organizations - the IRS wants you to think about record retention policies

Commenting on tax forms, Albert Einstein once said, "This is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher."

Einstein might appreciate the latest changes in filing for tax-exempt organizations. In an attempt to foster transparency and ease the filing organization's administrative burden, the IRS recently redesigned the Form 990 (the annual information return that most tax-exempt organizations are required to file). The redesign asks a variety of questions regarding the filing organization's governance, including the question, "Does the organization have a written document retention and destruction policy?"

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Watch the Data Mapping Webinar Here


The ESI Data Map - What Inside Counsel and Records Managers need to know

A recording of the March 24, 2009 encore presentation of the popular webinar The ESI Data Map -- What Inside Counsel and Records Managers Need to Know is available for viewing above.  Just click on the arrow on the lower left corner to play. We welcome your feedback on the presentation. 

 

SharePoint has a Sibling: E-Discovery Blessing or Curse?

Back in January 2008 a Network World article indicated that Forrester Research analysts predicting Microsoft SharePoint grabbing a huge share of the Web 2.0 market-- and they were right!

According to a recent Byte and Switch article, Microsoft's SharePoint had an adoption rate of about 55 percent by the end of 2008. Most if not all companies deploy MS Sharepoint as an enterprise portal technology to replace their static Intranet and enhance work collaboration. Naturally it generates tons of content that all need to be organized, stored, and retrieved in some fashion.

Since SharePoint content management is atypical of organizing and retrieving emails and files stored in a document management system (DMS), that translates into another layer of complexity when it comes to e-discovery- at least from a technical perspective.

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Back by Popular Demand -- the Free Data Mapping Webinar

Over four hundred inside and outside counsel, records managers and IT professionals attended  the first of our three part series of webinars titled The ESI Data Map:  What Inside Counsel and Records Managers Need to Know.  Following the overwhelming response to the webinar, and a technical glitch that prevented us from posting it here on E-discovery Bytes, we have decided to offer an encore presentation this Tuesday, March 24th at noon CST.  Feedback from attendees and chats from the internet billed it the "best webinar I've participated in" and "full of substantive information -- no fluff."   Please forward the link to this post to other colleagues, friends or associates you may have that might be interested in attending using the email link below this post.

As in the initial broadcast, John Collins, the Vice President of Consulting for The Ingersoll Firm, will lead the webinar with commentary from yours truly, Kelly Twigger of Quarles' Records Retention and E-Discovery Team, and  Lisa Berry-Tayman of Kahn Consulting.  I will discuss the benefits of utilizing a data map in an over all strategy to prepare for preserving, collecting, reviewing and producing electronic information as a way to identify where ESI lives in an organization's infrastructure and how best to consider implementing changes to reduce costs in storage and producing ESI.   Lisa will offer insights into how a data map fits into an organization's records management program and the importance of communication among multiple groups within the organization for successful implementation of any records program.  The webinar is free.  Click here to register. 

Gone But Not Forgotten

In "Men in Black," Will Smith carries a tool that is the Holy Grail of every litigant with something to hide: a "neuralizer" that erases aliens and Tommy Lee Jones' acting from the memories of those unlucky enough to witness either.  The real genius is that the subject doesn't know they've been "neuralized"--not only is the crime gone, but so is the cover-up.

There are a number of products on the marketplace that attempt to do the same for hard drives.  Some are surprisingly straightforward about their goal: destroying incriminating evidence.  For example, with a name that might provoke the most mild mannered judge, Evidence Eliminator boasts on its website that "If you do not use Evidence Eliminator, ' your PC is a ticking time bomb, waiting to go off!' . . . Only with Evidence Eliminator can you get the protection you deserve, only then can you use your PC to explore the Internet with confidence."  The company drives the point home with a page entitled "Reasons to Buy," which recounts statistics on prison violence.  The thinly veiled message is that the product can destroy incriminating evidence, and spare its purchaser jail time or civil liability.

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Location, Location, Location

 King Edward VII was widely known for his infidelities, and his wife, Queen Alexandra, had to pretend to ignore his affairs and wild escapades. But she got the last word. In a famous, albeit  apocryphal, anecdote, as the King lay on his deathbed in 1910, the faithful and grieving Queen was stricken with one reassuring thought, and she supposedly turned to the King’s aide and said: "Now, at least I’ll know where he is."

  Although Queen Alexandra may have been comfortable with the King’s   whereabouts after his death, organizations cannot and should not take the same comfort with respect to their electronic files. E-files that have been deleted in accordance with an organization’s document retention policy may not be where an organization thinks those files are - gone. To the contrary, the files may be dangerously lurking in the deep dark corners of the organization’s information systems.

 

Unfortunately, when it comes to electronic documents, common document retention and deletion policies and procedures simply may not adequately protect sensitive information from falling into the hands of others. Deleting an e-mail or electronic document may not completely remove the data from a computer or computer system. Instead, the deleted information often remains there, typically on the computer's disk drive, until it is overwritten by other information.  The data can often be recovered using software tools designed for recovering deleted information.

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Googling and Tweeting and Facebooking, Oh My! Jurors Conducting Outside Research During Trial

The Internet and sites such as Twitter offer many opportunities to create more transparency in the justice system, beyond reporting by the mainstream media.  The University of Montana's blog / tweet project on the W.R. Grace trial is just one intriguing current example.  More on that fascinating endeavor here

But the increasing mobility of Internet access has other unintended consequences that cross into the E-Discovery arena.  The New York Times online posted a fascinating article  (note:  New York Times login required)highlighting the sharp increase in the number of jurors who violate the court's routine admonition not to conduct any outside research on the case.  A growing number of jurors are conducting Internet searches on their BlackBerrys or iPhones or sending "tweets" or blogging about the trial via the Internet - sometimes even while they are hearing evidence at trial.

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Getting TIFFed Off: The Dangers of Not Going Native with ESI . . . Or, The Perils of Killing the Bunny

For a full understanding of the Great TIFF v. Native Debate and the dangers of choosing the wrong side, try this. Picture a bunny.

Why not? Spring is near, and Easter is only a month away. So, picture a bunny. You can cuddle it, watch its little nose twitch, listen to its heartbeat, even observe its behavior and follow it home. If you are one of those lucky creatures who speak bunny -- like computer programmers speak source code -- you can politely inquire where it's been, what it's seen and who it has spoken with.

Electronically-stored information (ESI) such as e-mails and spreadsheets, is like that living bunny. It exists in pure native form, possessing an exotic birthday suit from which can be gathered the hidden details known as metadata -- who authored the data, who sent and received it, the underlying formulas behind the numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, where files or e-mails were stored, who read or possessed them, when they were created, accessed, modified and saved. Such ESI produced by a party is fully searchable. Like the bunny, it can talk to your opponent, and tell them things.

But herein lies the nasty little secret: attorneys and their clients do not want the bunny to talk to their opponents. In fact, they would love to produce ESI in such a way that their opponents cannot communicate with the bunny. But in most cases, their opponents' requests for production specifically ask them to turn over the bunny. So what can they do?

Picture that bunny, dead. Whacked. A poor dead bunny, handed over to the other side. No pulse. No heartbeat. You can't follow a dead bunny home. You can't talk to it, and it certainly can't talk back. That dead bunny is a TIFF, or "Tagged Image File Format," like a PDF. When the bunny is snuffed and the electronic data "TIFFed" -- i.e., printed out in hard copy and then re-scanned -- it becomes dead and frozen, rather than dynamic and searchable. What you see is what you get. The hidden information, the ability to search millions of pages of text for smoking gun language, and to peek at its living history, is lost. And your opponent has no way to recreate it. There is no way for him to resuscitate that bunny. Sure, he can take a DNA test of the dead bunny: convert the tiny elements of TIFF images -- the individual letters, like the Ts, As, Gs and Cs of a double helix -- into searchable text format through optical character recognition ("OCR"). But OCR does not solve the main problem: identification of the lifeblood, the living metadata of the bunny's life history (the who, what, where, when and why) that does not appear in the TIFFs.

Still, what's wrong with this? Why not always produce ESI in TIFF rather than native metadata form? Why not always produce a dead bunny? Isn't this a perfect solution? Unfortunately, no -- as one law firm, two lawyers, and their very unhappy client just learned in Bray & Gillespie Mgmt. LLC v. Lexington Ins. Co., No. 6:07-cv-222-Orl-35 KRS (M.D. Fla. Mar. 4, 2009). In short, Lexington wanted a live bunny and requested all ESI in native format without any alteration or deletion of metadata. Its opponent Bray & Gillespie (B&G) produced a very dead bunny, and was called out by the court for doing so. And that was before B&G's counsel began lying about who killed the bunny and when.

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Tee Up Your Document Retention Policy -or End Up in the Woods

In a widely reported anecdote, pop singer Christina Aguilera was once introduced to golfing superstar Tiger Woods, one of the most recognized people on Earth. “Christina, I love your music,” Woods declared. “I have all your CDs...” “Sorry, I don’t follow tennis,” Aguilera said, “so I don’t know much about you.”

 

Unfortunately, ignorance is no excuse when it comes to compliance with record-retention policies and apathy will result in serious trouble.   The legal and regulatory risks associated with noncompliance include costly penalties, court sanctions, and adverse judgments.  In addition to these compliance risks, companies must also consider potential financial and strategic risks. According to Rich Bailey in “Leveraging Enterprise Records Management” in the Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal, a recent survey found that “roughly 50 percent of respondents said they are less than confident that, if challenged in court, their organization could demonstrate that their electronic information is accurate, accessible, and trustworthy. Only now are organizations realizing the complexity and compliance requirements associated with e-records, including electronic documents, data, e-mail and instant messages. Another survey by CFO.com found more than one-third of top-level executives say their companies don’t have a disciplined way to deal with electronic discovery issues.”

 

ONE THIRD! That’s a lot of executives who are at serious risk of consequences due to their shortcomings in preparedness in dealing with electronic discovery issues. If your company has not already evaluated adopting a document retention policy, adopted a policy or, worse yet, is not following its existing document retention policy, get on the ball or you may end up being like another golfer, Harry Tofcano, who said, “I’m hitting the woods just great, but I’m having a terrible time getting out of them.”

Need to send a personal e-mail? Keep it at home.

As a general matter, employees of corporations are aware that e-mails sent in the course of business may be read by IT support technicians for the company.  But did you know that personal e-mails sent on the job could come back to bite you in a grand jury investigation?  Henry Nicholas wasn’t – at least not until recently.  Nicholas, the billionaire co-founder and ex-CEO of Broadcom, is painfully aware that not even the marital privilege can protect incriminating e-mails sent from a work e-mail account. 

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Free Data Mapping Webinar -- March 11, 2009

Join us on Wednesday, March 11, 2009, for the first of a series of three webinars designed to offer practical advice to organizations attempting to get a handle on their ESI.  The first webinar in the series, titled The ESI Data Map:  What Inside Counsel and Records Managers Need to Know, will run for one hour and break down the benefits of creating a data map of your organization's IT infrastructure.  John Collins, the Vice President of Consulting for The Ingersoll Firm, will lead the webinar with commentary from yours truly, Kelly Twigger of Quarles' Records Retention and E-Discovery Team, and  Lisa Berry-Tayman of Kahn Consulting.  I will discuss the benefits of utilizing a data map in an over all strategy to prepare for preserving, collecting, reviewing and producing electronic information as a way to identify where ESI lives in an organization's infrastructure and how best to consider implementing changes to reduce costs in storage and producing ESI.   Lisa will offer insights into how a data map fits into an organization's records management program and the importance of communication among multiple groups within the organization for successful implementation of any records program.  The webinar is free.  Click here to register. 

A Doll's House of Cards: Wanton Laptop Destruction Leads to Sanctions

What happens when Nineteenth Century dolls meet Twenty-First Century litigation? Sometimes - sanctions! Kvitka v. The Puffin Co, LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11214 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 13, 2009) reminds us that the failure to preserve relevant ESI can mean disaster in any litigation. Although few of us would fail to recognize the red flags posed by Ms. Kvitka's behavior in this case, it bears repeating that even the inadvertent failure to preserve ESI can fatally compromise an otherwise-valid claim or defense, even in a doll-sized case.

Nancy Kvitka had advertised her antique bisque-headed dolls in the magazine Antique Doll Collectors, published by Puffin Company, LLC, since the magazine's first issue in 1998.  In August 2005, the magazine notified Ms. Kvitka that it would no longer publish her advertisements because of a large number of complaints about her business practices, including her disparagement of other advertisers and misleading advertisements.

 

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