eDiscovery Trends: Special Masters Increasingly Used to Facilitate Complex eDiscovery Cases

By: Doug Austin

Retired Washington DC superior court judge Richard Levie was recently appointed as a special master to oversee the eDiscovery demands of an ongoing high profile acquisition case. In the wake of several Department of Justice (DOJ) eDiscovery battles with Honeywell International in a recent high profile case, the DOJ and AT&T have jointly requested (and US district Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle appointed) Levie as special master to resolve any matters involving electronic evidence in the case focused on the $39 billion proposed acquisition of T-Mobile by AT&T.

The case is expected to benefit from the assistance of a special master because of the rapid pace as which it is expected to move forward: the case was filed on August 31 and the trial date is in February 2012 – very quickly for a case of this magnitude (and expected large data population) to begin in trial.

Due to the very fast-paced discovery schedule, the judge has set strict limits on the requests and submissions that both parties can make to the special master. Motions must be under 750 words and briefs 250 words or less – sheer torture for many attorneys(!).  Motions relating to discovery can only be submitted after a "substantive meet and confer" conference has been conducted between the parties.

This type of scenario is becoming more common in today's legal environment.  With as many as 123,000 pending civil suits in the DOJ caseload, it is becoming increasingly common for overloaded attorneys and judges to rely on the oversight provided by qualified special masters. These special masters are charged with acting as liaisons and moderators to quickly resolve discovery disputes over ESI, and to provide guidance that judges usually follow closely in making their decisions.

In the present case regarding the AT&T proposed merger with T-Mobile, special master Levie is expected to aid both parties in agreeing on eDiscovery terms, meeting compliance requirements and in finding resolution for any disputes.

So, what do you think? Have you been involved in a case where a special master coordinated eDiscovery procedures?  Did that speed up the discovery process? Please share any comments you might have or if you'd like to know more about a particular topic.

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About the Bloggers

Brad Jenkins

Brad Jenkins, President and CEO of CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years of experience leading customer focused companies in the litigation support arena. Brad has authored many articles on litigation support issues, and has spoken before national audiences on document management practices and solutions.

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Doug Austin

Doug Austin, Professional Services Manager for CloudNine Discovery, has over 20 years experience providing legal technology consulting and technical project management services to numerous commercial and government clients. Doug has also authored several articles on eDiscovery best practices.

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Jane Gennarelli

Jane Gennarelli is a principal of Magellan’s Law Corporation and has been assisting litigators in effectively handling discovery materials for over 30 years. She authored the company’s Best Practices in a Box™ content product and assists firms in applying technology to document handling tasks. She is a known expert and often does webinars and presentations for litigation support professionals around the country. Jane can be reached by email at jane@litigationbestpractices.com.

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