On Governor Delete, the Stink Eye and Raising Your Bar
There is this thing called spoliation of evidence and if you get caught doing it, well, just take out your wallet and start spilling the Benjamins.
You may have heard that Florida Governor Rick Scott’s transition team was recently found to have brazenly trashed…or, err…mistakenly deleted a trove of public records, actually email communications.
The emails likely detailed much of the team’s discussion of hiring decisions, Cabinet vetting and policy development during that crucial period between his election and unlocking the front door of the Governor’s Mansion. We’re talking 40 to 50 email accounts. That’s accounts, not individual emails. Easily thousands of pertinent, perhaps sensitive, communications governed by Florida’s public records law.
Oh, the fun we could have ranting about conspiracy theories, pervasive hubris and a continuing pattern of disdain for the rule of law and the sun shining on their cozy cabal. “Public record laws? Pfffft!”
But that’s not where we’re headed today. Giving the bumblers the benefit of the doubt, there are lessons in the good Governor’s stumble. I mean, think about it. If this could happen to an apparently sophisticated staff of nationally credentialed professionals who retained an assumedly seasoned and competent private vendor to handle email organization and retention, what does that say about you and your company?
The whole “back-up” thing is important, sure. We’ve all lived through the gut wrenching realization that our computer has puked, sending us into an apoplectic daze while the IT X-Men copter in to the rescue. But there is a collateral legal issue perhaps equally important and more to the point of the stink Gov. Scott has found himself in over this issue:
Um…email retention policies.
Wait, wait! Don’t leave, please. I know it ain’t sexy but I assure you it is necessary. Like a Level One Trauma center, you don’t need it until you need it, and then, thank the lord, you’ve got it nearby.
See, there is this thing called spoliation of evidence (please no emails about how to spell “spoil,” the word really is spoliation) and if you get caught doing it, well, just take out your wallet and start spilling the Benjamins. Of course, if you plan on never suing anyone, getting sued, thinking of getting sued or don’t consider there’s the slightest chance you may end up in a courtroom wondering why Juror #6 is giving you the stink eye, then read no more.
But talk to the president of Residential Funding Corporation who jeopardized a favorable $94 million judgment a few years ago after they couldn’t produce emails requested, properly, by the other side and the judge rightly told the jury they could infer that the emails would have been adverse to Residential’s interests. Stopped yawning yet?
Or ask UBS Warburg, LLC how a $29 million employment discrimination verdict tastes after the judge instructed the jury they could infer bad intentions when UBS cavalierly failed to produce emails that should have and could have been produced.
Yeah, oops. Again.
The lesson is that if you even sniff legal trouble on the horizon and hit the delete button, even accidentally, you’re as good as cooked. Like other systems you use to make sure your machines stay greased and your widgets keep flying off the loading dock, this is simply a must do. A “Duh!” Bragging to your golf foursome about your organized, comprehensive and monitored electronic document retention system may get you laughed off the first tee but being able to prove it to that juror with the stink eye may just buy you greens fees for life.
Sure, you could rationalize and say if it can happen to the Governor it can happen to anyone. But don’t you want to set your bar a little higher than that?
All the best.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bill Yanger - Yanger Law Group, P.A.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.