The New York City Law Department and two of its attorneys are facing sanctions after abusing the discovery process, reports the Courthouse News Service. The sanctions stem from litigation related to "The Program," which was guard-sponsored inmate on inmate violence at Rikers' Island. The plaintiff had requested specific documents from the Department of Corrections, but were instead handed over 5,000 pages of records. Many of the requested documents were omitted.
The Program was a practice that allegedly allowed inmates to severely beat each other while the guards stood by and watched. The guards saw it as a way to control the inmates. The inmates saw it as a way to fight over contraband. The entire scheme was brought to light after an inmate died. Some of the guards and inmates have faced, or are currently facing, criminal charges from the fights.
One of the injured inmates, Kadeem John, is the plaintiff in this suit. He allegedly suffered brain, kidney, and spleen injuries, as well as memory loss, blurry vision, bloody urine, and headaches.
The discovery process allows plaintiffs to get access to requested records of the defendant for evidentiary purposes. For example, an employee pressing a discrimination claim could theoretically access personnel records to determine if there was a pattern of discrimination against other like individuals. Here, the requested records included information on inmate violence and personnel records for the guards that supervised the inmates.
One method for abusing, circumventing, or delaying the discovery process is to hide the smoking gun documents in plain sight. Essentially, if you have one or two damaging documents, you include them with tens of thousands of pages of less important information and dump it all on the opposing party. Less organization is better.
The sheer number of hours required to dig though the documents increases the cost of pursuing the case, which can lead to a quicker and more favorable settlement. It’s also quite possible that, with the “needle in the haystack” scenario, that the smoking gun documents might just be missed. The method is frowned upon by judges.
According to the judge’s ruling, that’s exactly what he felt was going on here. Judge Robert Patterson Jr. ordered sanctions for punishment for the abusive conduct of the New York Law Department, including $10,000 in sanctions for the department and $300 each for the two attorneys assigned to the case. Additional sanctions of $1,000 per day will be levied if the discovery requests, which have been pending since November, are not fulfilled by July 20.
- Speak to a New York Personal Injury Attorney (FindLaw)
- Teen violence at Rikers defies reforms (New York World)
- Former Inmate Sues Rikers for $80 Mill; Food Almost Killed Him (FindLaw’s New York Personal Injury Law Blog)
- Despite a Positive Yelp! Rating, Avoid Cook County Jail (FindLaw’s Chicago Personal Injury Law Blog)