Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Supreme Court of Florida Considers E-Discovery Rules

In a development that may lead to the use of more special magistrates and special masters deciding discovery disputes, this morning, the Supreme Court of Florida heard oral argument in case SC11-1542 on the amendments to the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure concerning E-Discovery. The proposed amendments add electronically stored information or ESI into existing rules and are mostly modeled on the federal rule changes implemented by Congress in 2006. Following a multi-year effort by the Civil Procedure Rules Subcommittee on E-Discovery that I formed in January 2006, these rules were presented to the Florida Bar Board of Governors and sent on to the court for comment and adoption. Justice Barbara Pariente, with her iPad prominently displayed on the bench, began to pepper Chair, Kevin Johnson (whom I tapped as my successor upon my terming off the Civil Rules standing committee) shortly after he began. She engaged in congratulating the seemingly unanimous approval by the members of the Bar in the run-up to making these rules official. Justice Pariente continued with questions regarding her experience as a litigator in producing documents in products cases. Mr. Johnson explained that the only difference from the federal rules is the lack of a mandatory meet and confer early in the case. However, there is an available category found in the state case management rules 1.200 and 1.201. Justice Quince was concerned over the format of production of the items requested by a litigant and that those decisions are left to the trial judge. Justice Perry was concerned about the party having the best expert to hide the ball with an inexperienced line judge. Doug Caldwell of the Rumberger firm appeared to applaud the effort, but on behalf of the Florida Defense Lawyers, did not feel the federal rules go far enough. He cited efforts in the federal rules advisory committee to remedy the inefficiencies experienced in that system. Mr. Caldwell echoed Henry Trawick’s comments filed about the burden on the producing party. His anecdote of a ‘mom and pop’ store with an iPhone was met with skepticism from Justice Pariente. Justice Polston pointed out the existing rules allow for trial judges to argue scope in 1.280. Retired Circuit Judge Ralph Artigliere, with whom I’ve taught at OSCA’s Florida Judicial College, commented on preservation and the existing case law for spoliation that developed out of products and malpractice cases. He added that Business Courts can make local rules more specific to manner of production. He also mentioned the change in culture reflecting a burden on lawyers to understand the evidence their clients may have and responsibility to the court, Education of the bench and bar was discussed and Justice Lewis went as far as talking about mandatory court education or bar CLE to be coordinated by the budget-less Civil Rules committee. Not a clue as to the timing of implementation of these rule amendments was given during the thirty-seven minute argument, though I liked Justice Pariente's emphasis on wide agreement of committee and bar to pass rules. Fingers crossed! See complete oral argument at: