The biggest civil trial of the year was delayed by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup due to e-discovery issues that arose at the last minute. This happened in a trade-secret case by Google’s self-driving car division, WAYMO, against Uber. Waymo LLC v. Uber Techs., Inc. (Waymo I), No. 17-cv-00939-WHA (JSC), (N.D. Cal. November 28, 2017). The trial was scheduled to begin in San Francisco on December 4, 2017 (it had already been delayed once by another discovery dispute). The trial was delayed at Waymo’s request to give it time to investigate a previously undisclosed, inflammatory letter by an attorney for Richard Jacobs. Judge Alsup had just been told of the letter by the United States attorney’s office in Northern California. Judge Alsup immediately shared the letter with Waymo’s attorneys and Uber’s attorneys.
At the November 28, 2017, hearing Judge Alsup reportedly accused Uber’s lawyers of withholding this evidence, forcing him to delay the trial until Waymo’s lawyers could gather more information about the contents of the letter. NYT (11/28/17). The NY Times reported Judge Alsup as stating:
I can no longer trust the words of the lawyers for Uber in this case … You should have come clean with this long ago … If even half of what is in that letter is true, it would be an injustice for Waymo to go to trial.
Judge Alsup was also reported to have said to Uber’s lawyers in the open court hearing of November 28, 2017:
You’re just making the impression that this is a total coverup … Any company that would set up such a surreptitious system is just as suspicious as can be.
Judge Alsup was upset by both the cover-up of the Jacobs letter and by the contents of the letter. The letter essentially alleged a wide-spread criminal conspiracy to hide and destroy evidence in all litigation, not just the Waymo case, by various means, including use of: (1) specialized communication tools that encrypt and self-destruct ephemeral communications, such as instant messages; (2) personal electronic devices and accounts not traceable to the company; and, (3) fake attorney-client privilege claims. Judge Alsup reportedly opened the hearing on the request for continuance by admonishing attorneys that counsel in future cases can be “found in malpractice” if they do not turn over evidence from such specialized tools. Fortune (12/2/17). That is a fair warning to us all. For instance, do any of your key custodians use specialized self-destruct communications tools like Wickr or Telegram?
Qualcomm Case All Over Again?
The alleged hide-the-email conduct here looks like it might be a high-tech version of the infamous Qualcomm case in San Diego. Qualcomm Inc. v. Broadcom Corp., No. 05-CV-1958-B(BLM) Doc. 593 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2007); Qualcomm, Inc. v. Broadcom Corp., 2008 WL 66932 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 7, 2008) (Plaintiff Qualcomm intentionally withheld from production several thousand important emails, a fact not revealed until cross-examination at trial of one honest witness).
The same rules of professional conduct are, or may be, involved in both Qualcomm and Waymo (citing to ABA model rules).
RULE 3.3 CANDOR TOWARD THE TRIBUNAL
(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:
(1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer; . . .
(b) A lawyer who represents a client in an adjudicative proceeding and who knows that a person intends to engage, is engaging or has engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to the proceeding shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if necessary, disclosure to the tribunal.
RULE 3.4 FAIRNESS TO OPPOSING PARTY AND COUNSEL
A lawyer shall not:
(a) unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or otherwise unlawfully alter, destroy, or conceal a document or other material that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is relevant to a pending or a reasonably foreseeable proceeding; nor counsel or assist another person to do any such act.
Although, as we will see, it looks so far as if Uber and its in-house attorneys are the ones who knew about the withheld documents and destruction scheme, and not Uber’s actual counsel of record. It all gets a little fuzzy to me with all of the many law firms involved, but so far the actual counsel of record for Uber claim to have been as surprised by the letter as Waymo’s attorneys, even though the letter was directed to Uber’s in-house legal counsel.
In addition to possible ethics violations in Waymo v. Uber, a contention was made by the attorneys for Uber consultant, Richard Jacobs, that Uber was hiding evidence in violation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Pub. L. 107-204, § 802, 116 Stat. 745, 800 (2002), which states in relevant part:
whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
18 U.S.C. § 1519. The Sarbanes-Oxley applies to private companies and has a broad reach not limited to litigation that has been filed, much less formal discovery requests. Section 1519 “covers conduct intended to impede any federal investigation or proceeding including one not even on the verge of commencement.“ Yates v. United States, – U.S. –, 135 S.Ct. 1074, 1087 (2015).
The Astonishing “Richard Jacobs Letter” by Clayton Halunen
The alleged ethical and legal violations in Waymo LLC v. Uber Techs., Inc. are based upon Uber’s failure to produce a “smoking gun” type of letter (email) and the contents of that letter. Although the letter is referred to as the Jacobs letter, it was actually written by Clayton D. Halunen of Halunen Law (shown right), an attorney for Richard Jacobs, a former Uber employee and current Uber consultant. Although this 37-page letter dated May 5, 2017 was not written by Richard Jacobs, it purports to represent how Jacobs would testify to support employment claims he was making against Uber. It was provided to Uber’s in-house employment counsel, Angella Padilla, in lieu of an interview of Jacobs that she was seeking.
A redacted copy of the letter dated May 5, 2017, has been released to the public and is very interesting for many reasons. I did not add the yellow highlighting seen in this letter and am unsure who did.
In fairness to Uber I point out that the letter states on its face in all caps that it is a RULE 408 CONFIDENTIAL COMMUNICATION FOR SETTLEMENT PURPOSES ONLY VIA EMAIL AND U.S. MAIL, a fact that does not appear to have been argued as a grounds for Uber not producing the letter to Waymo in Waymo v. Uber. That may be because Rule 408, FRCP, states that although such settlement communications are not admissible to “prove or disprove the validity or amount of a disputed claim or to impeach by a prior inconsistent statement or a contradiction” they are admissible “for another purpose, such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice, negating a contention of undue delay, or proving an effort to obstruct a criminal investigation or prosecution.” Also, Rule 408 pertains to admissibility, not discoverability, and Rule 26(b)(1) still says that “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.”
The letter claims that Richard Jacobs has a background in military intelligence, essentially a spy, although those portions of the letter were heavily redacted. I tend to believe this for several reasons, including the fact that I could not find a photograph of Jacobs anywhere. That is very rare. The letter goes on to describe the “unlawful activities within Uber’ s ThreatOps division.” Jacobs Letter at pg. 3. The illegal activities included fraud, theft, hacking, espionage and “knowing violations” of Sarbanes-Oxley by:
Uber’ s efforts to evade current and future discovery requests, court orders, and government investigations in violation of state and federal law as well as ethical rules governing the legal profession. Clark devised training and provided advice intended to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation of several ongoing lawsuits against Uber and in relation to or contemplation of further matters within the jurisdiction of the United States. …
Jacobs then became aware that Uber, primarily through Clark and Henley, had implemented a sophisticated strategy to destroy, conceal, cover up, and falsify records or documents with the intent to impede or obstruct government investigations as well as discovery obligations in pending and future litigation. Besides violating 18 U.S.C. § 15 19, this conduct constitutes an ethical violation.
Pages 5, 6 of Jacobs Letter. The practices included the alleged mandatory use of a program called WickrMe, that “programs messages to self-destruct in a matter of seconds to no longer than six days. Consequently, Uber employees cannot be compelled to produce records of their chat conversations because no record is retained.” Letter pg. 6.
Remember, Judge Alsup reportedly began the trail continuance hearing of November 28, 2017, by admonishing attorneys that in future cases they could be “found in malpractice” if they do not turn over evidence from such specialized communications tools. Fortune (12/2/17). There are a number of other secure messaging apps in adddition to Wickr that have encryption and self destruct features. A few I have found are:
- Facebook Messenger,
- Google Allo,
- Cover Me,
- Silent Phone,
There are also services on the web that will send self-destructing messages for you, such as PrivNote. This is a rapidly changing area so do your own due diligence.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi reacted to the November 29, 2017 hearing and Judge Alsup’s comments by tweeting on November 29, 2017 that Uber employees did, but no longer, use Wickr and another program like it, Telegram.
True that Wickr, Telegram were used often at Uber when I came in. As of Sept 27th I directed my teams NOT to use such Apps when discussing Uber-related business.
This seems like a good move to me on the part of Uber’s new CEO, a smart move. It is also an ethical move in a sometimes ethically challenged Silicon Valley culture. The culture is way too filled with selfish Ayn Rand devotees for my taste. I hope this leads to large scale housekeeping by Khosrowshahi. Matt Kallman, a spokesman for Uber, said after the public release of the letter:
While we haven’t substantiated all the claims in this letter — and, importantly, any related to Waymo — our new leadership has made clear that going forward we will compete honestly and fairly, on the strength of our ideas and technology.
NYT (12/15/17). You know the old saying about Fool me once …
Back to the Jacobs letter, it also alleges at pgs. 6-9 the improper use of fake attorney-client privilege to hide evidence:
Further, Clark and Henley directly instructed Jacobs to conceal documents in violation of Sarbanes-Oxley by attempting to “shroud” them with attorney-client privilege or work product protections. Clark taught the ThreatOps team that if they marked communications as “draft,” asked for a legal opinion at the beginning of an email, and simply wrote “attorney-client privilege” on documents, they would be immune from discovery.
The letter also alleges the intentional use of personal computers and accounts to conduct Uber business that they wanted to hide from disclosure. Letter pgs. 7-8.
The letter at pages 9-26 then details facts purporting to show illegal intelligence gathering activities by Uber on a global scale, violating multiple state and federal laws, including:
- Economic Espionage Act
- Uniform Trade Secret Act
- California Uniform Trade Secrets Act
- Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO)
- Wire Fraud law at 18 U.S.C § 1343, and California Penal Code § 528.5
- Wiretap Act at 18 U .S.C. § 25 10 et seq.
- Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)
- Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA)
Special Master John L. Cooper
Judge Alsop referred the discovery issues raised by Uber’s non-disclosure of the “Jacobs Letter” to the Special Master handling many of the discovery disputes in this case, John L. Cooper of Farella Braun + Martel LLP. The Special Master Report with Cooper’s recommendations concerning the issues raised by the late disclosure of the letter is dated December 15, 2017. Cooper’s report is a public record that can be found here. This is his excellent introduction of the dispute found at pages 1-2 of his report.
The trial of this trade secrets case was continued for a second time after the belated discovery of inflammatory communications by a former Uber employee came to light outside the normal discovery process. On April 14, 2017, Richard Jacobs sent a resignation e-mail to Uber’s then-CEO and then-general counsel, among others, accusing Uber of having a dedicated division with a “mission” to “steal trade secrets in a series of code-named campaigns” and engaging in other allegedly wrongful or inappropriate conduct. A few weeks later, on May 5, 2017, Mr. Jacobs’ lawyer, Clayton Halunen, sent a letter to Angela Padilla, Uber’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Employment. That 37-page letter expanded in some detail on Mr. Jacobs’ e-mailed accusations regarding clandestine and concerted efforts to steal competitors’ trade secrets, including those belonging to Waymo. It also addressed allegations touching on Anthony Levandowski’s alleged downloading of Waymo trade secrets. The Jacobs Letter laid out what his lawyer described as a set of hardware and software programs, and usage protocols that would help Uber to allegedly carry out its thefts and other corporate espionage in secret and with minimized risk of evidence remaining on Uber servers or devices. By mid-August Mr. Jacobs and Uber settled their disputes and executed a written settlement agreement on August 14-15,2017.
Despite extensive discovery and multiple Court orders to produce an extensive amount of information related to the accusations in the Jacobs Materials, Waymo did not learn of their existence until after November 22, when the Court notified the parties that a federal prosecutor wrote a letter to this Court disclosing the gist of the Jacobs allegations.
The Special Master’s report then goes on to analyze whether Uber was obligated to produce the Jacobs Materials in response to any of the Court’s prior orders or Waymo’s discovery requests. In short, Master Cooper concluded that they were not directly covered by any of the prior court orders, but the Jacobs Letter was responsive to certain discovery requests propounded by Waymo, and Uber was obligated to produce it in response to those requests.
Special Master Cooper goes on to describe at page 7 of his report the Jacobs letter by Halunen. To state the obvious, this is clearly a “hot” document with implications that go well beyond this particular case.
That 37-page letter set forth multiple allegations relating to alleged efforts by Uber individuals and divisions. Among other things, the letter alleges that Uber planned to use certain hardware devices and software to conceal the creation and destruction of corporate records that, as a result, “would never be subject to legal discovery.” See ECF No. 2307-2 at 7. These activities, Mr. Jacobs’ lawyer asserted, “implicate ongoing discovery disputes, such as those in Uber’s litigation with Waymo.” Id. at 9. He continued:
Specifically, Jacobs recalls that Jake Nocon, Nick Gicinto, and Ed Russo went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to educate Uber’s Autonomous Vehicle Group on using the above practices with the specific intent of preventing Uber’s unlawful schemes from seeing the light of day.
Jacobs’ observations cast doubt on Uber’s representation in court proceedings that no documents evidencing wrongdoing can be found on Uber’s systems and that other communications are actually shielded by the attorney-client privilege. Aarian Marshall, Judge in Waymo Dispute Lets Uber’s Self-driving Program Live—for Now, wired.com (May 3, 2017 at 8:47p.m.) (“Lawyers for Waymo also said Uber had blocked the release of 3,500 documents related to the acquisition of Otto on the grounds that they contain privileged information …. Waymo also can’t quite pin down whether Uber employees saw the stolen documents or if those documents moved anywhere beyond the computer Levandowski allegedly used to steal them. (Uber lawyers say extensive searches of their company’s system for anything connected to the secrets comes up nil.)”), available at (citation omitted).
Id. at 9-10.
Uber Attorney Angela Padilla
Angella Padilla was Uber’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Litigation and Employment. She testified on these issues. Here is Special Master Cooper’s summary at pages 8-9 of his report:
Ms. Padilla testified in this Court that she read the letter “in brief’ and turned it over to other Uber attorneys, including Ms. Yoo, to begin an internal investigation. Nov. 29, 2017 Hr’g Tr. at 15:17-24. The letter also made its way to two separate committees of Uber’s Board of Directors, including the committee that was or is overseeing special litigation, including this case and the Jacobs matter. Id. at 20:10-13; 26:23-25. On June 27, Uber disclosed the allegations in the Jacobs Letter to the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California. Id. at 27:20-14. It disclosed the Jacobs Letter itself on or around September 12 to the same U.S. Attorney’s Office, to another U.S. Attorney, in the Southern District of New York, and to the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington. Id. at 28:4-10. Ms. Padilla testified that Uber made these disclosures to multiple prosecutors “to take the air out of [Jacobs’] extortionist balloon.” Id. at 28:18-19. Nearly one month before that distribution of the letter to federal prosecutors, on August 14, Uber settled with Mr. Jacobs—the terms of which included $4.5 million in compensation to Jacobs and $3 million to his lawyers. See id. at 62:6-63-12.
I have to pause here for a minute because the settlement amount takes my breath away. Not only the payment of $4.5 Million to Richard Jacobs who had a salary of $130,000 per year, but also the additional payment of $3.0 million dollars to his lawyers. That’s an incredible sum for writing a couple of letters, although I am sure they would claim to have put much more into their representation than meets the eye.
Other Attorneys for Uber Involved
Back to Special Master Cooper’s summary of the testimony of Uber attorney Padilla and other facts in the record about attorney knowledge of the “smoking gun” Jacobs letter (footnotes omitted):
Uber distributed the Jacobs E-Mail to two of Uber’s counsel of record at Morrison Foerster (“MoFo”) in this case. See Dec. 4, 2017 Hr’g Tr. at 46:1-47:5. Other MoFo attorneys directly involved in this case and related discovery issues e-mailed with other MoFo attorneys in late April about “Uber’s ediscovery systems regarding potential investigation into Jacobs resignation letter.” See Waymo Ex. 21.
None of the Uber outside counsel working on this case got a copy of the Jacobs Letter. Neither did the two Uber in-house lawyers who were or are handling this case; Ms. Padilla testified that she did not send it to them. Nov. 29, 2017 Hr’g Tr. at 47:8-16. By late June, some attorneys from Boies Schiller and Flexner, also counsel in this matter for Uber, had discussions with other outside counsel and Ms. Padilla about issues arising from the internal investigation triggered by the Jacobs Materials. See Waymo Ex. 20, Entries 22-22(h).
So now you know the names of the attorneys involved, and not involved, according to Special Master Cooper at page 9 of his report. Apparently none of the actual counsel of record knew about it. I would have to assume, and I think the court will too, that this was intentional. It was so clever as to be obvious, or, as the British would say too clever by half.
U.S. Attorney Notifies Judge Alsup of the Jacobs Letter
To complete the procedural background, here is what happened next leading to the referral to the Special Master. Note that a U.S. Attorney taking action like this to notify a District Court Judge of a piece of evidence is extraordinary, especially to do so just before a trial. Judge Alsop said that he had never had such a thing happen in his courtroom. The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California is Brian Stretch. Obviously he was concerned about the fairness of Uber’s actions. In my opinion this was a good call by Stretch.
On November 22, 2017, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California notified this Court of the Jacobs allegations and specifically referenced the account Jacobs put in his letter about the efforts to keep the Ottomotto acquisition secret. See ECF No. 2383. The Court on the same day issued an order disclosing receipt of the letter from the U.S. Attorney and asked the parties to inform the Court about the extent of any prior disclosure of the Jacobs allegations. See ECF Nos. 2260-2261. After continuing the trial date in light of the parties’ responses to that query, the Court on December 4, 2017, ordered the Special Master “to determine whether and to what extent, including the history of this action and both sides’ past conduct, defendants were required to earlier produce the Jacobs letter, resignation email, or settlement agreement, or required to provide any information in those documents in response to interrogatories, Court orders, or other agreements among counsel.” ECF No. 2334, 2341.
Special Master report at pgs. 9-10.
Special Master Cooper’s Recommended Ruling
Master Cooper found that the Richard Jacobs letter was responsive to two of Waymos’ requests to produce: RFP 29 and RFP 73. He rejected Uber’s argument that they were not responsive to any request, an argument that must have been difficult to make concerning a document this hot. They tried to make the argument seem more reasonable by saying that even if the letter was “generally relevant,” it was not responsive. Then they cite to cases standing for the proposition that you have no duty to produce relevant documents that you are not going to rely on, namely documents adverse to your position, unless they are specifically requested. Here is a quote of the conclusion of that argument from page 16 of Uber’s Response to Waymo’s Submission to Special Master Cooper Re the Jacobs Documents.
Congress has specified in Rule 26(a)(ii) what documents must be unilaterally produced, and they are only those that a party “may use to support its claims or defenses.” Thus, a party cannot use a document against an adversary at trial that the party failed to disclose. However, Rule 26 very pointedly does not require the production of any documents other than those that a party plans to use “to support” its claims. Obviously, Uber is not seeking to use any of the documents at issue to support its claims. If Waymo believes that this rule should be changed, that is an issue they need to address with Congress, not with the Court.
Master Cooper did not address that argument because he found the documents were in fact both relevant and directly responsive to two of Waymo’s requests for production.
Uber’s attorney also made what I consider a novel argument that even if the Jacobs letter was found to be responsive, they still did have to produce it because, get this – it did not include any of the keywords that they agreed to use to search for documents in those categories. Incredible. What difference does that make, if they knew about the document anyway? Their client, Uber, specifically including in-house counsel, Ms. Padilla, clearly knew about it. The letter was to her. Are they suggesting that Uber did not know about the letter because some of their outside counsel did not know about it? Special Master Cooper must have had the same reaction as he disposed of this argument in short order at page 17 of his report:
Uber argues, that in some scenarios, reliance on search terms is enough to satisfy a party’s obligation to find responsive documents. See, e.g., T.D.P. v. City of Oakland, No, 16-cv-04132-LB, 2017 WL 3026925, at *5 (N.D. Cal. July 17, 2017) (finding certain search terms adequate for needs of case). But I find there are two main reasons why an exclusive focus on the use of search terms is inappropriate for determining whether the Jacobs Letter should have been produced in response to RFP 29 and RFP 73.
First, the parties never reached an agreement to limit their obligation to searching for documents to only those documents that hit on agreed-upon search terms. See Waymo Ex. 5 (Uber counsel telling Waymo during search-term negotiations that “Waymo has an obligation to conduct a reasonable search for responsive documents separate and apart from any search term negotiations”). (Emphasis added)
Second, Uber needed no such help in finding the Jacobs Materials. They were not stowed away in a large volume of data on some server. They were not stashed in some low-level employee’s files. Parties agree to use search terms and to look into the records of the most likely relevant custodians to help manage the often unwieldy process of searching through massive amounts of data. These methods are particularly called for when a party, instead of merely having to look for a needle in a haystack, faces the prospect of having to look for lots of needles in lots of haystacks. This needle was in Uber’s hands the whole time.
I would add that this needle was stuck deep into their hands, such that they were bleeding profusely. Maybe the outside attorneys did not see it, but Uber sure did and they had a duty to advise their attorneys. Uber’s attorneys would have been better off saving their powder for attacking the accuracy of the contents of the Jacobs letter and talking about the fast pace of discovery. They did that, but only as a short concluding argument, almost an afterthought. See page 16-19 of Uber’s Response to Waymo’s Submission to Special Master Cooper Re the Jacobs Documents.
Here is another theoretical argument that Uber’s lawyers threw up and Cooper’s practical response at pages 17-18 of his report:
Uber argues that it cannot be that the mere possession and knowledge of a relevant document must trigger a duty to scrutinize it and see if it matches any discovery requests. It asked at the December 12, 2017, hearing before the Special Master: Should every client be forced to instruct every one of its employees to turn over every e-mail and document to satisfy its discovery obligations to produce relevant and responsive documents? Must every head of litigation for every company regularly confronted with discovery obligations search their files for responsive documents, notwithstanding any prior agreement with the requesting party to search for responsive documents by the use of search terms?
It is not easy, in the abstract, to determine where the line regarding the scope of discovery search should be drawn. But this is not a case involving mere possession of some document. The facts in this case suggest that Ms. Padilla knew of the Jacobs Letter at the time Uber had to respond to discovery requests calling for its production—it certainly was “reasonably accessible.” Mr. Jacobs’ correspondence alleged systemic, institutionalized, and criminal efforts by Uber to conceal evidence and steal trade secrets, and not just as a general matter but also specifically involving the evidence and trade secrets at issue in this case—maybe the largest and most significant lawsuit Uber has ever faced. Ms. Padilla, Uber’s vice president and deputy general counsel for litigation and employment received the Jacobs Materials around the same time that discovery in this case was picking up and around the same time that the Court partially granted Waymo’s requested provisional relief. Shortly after that, Uber told federal prosecutors about the Jacobs allegations and then later sent them a copy of the letter. It sent the materials to outside counsel, including lawyers at MoFo that Uber hired to investigate the allegations. Two separate Uber board committees got involved, including the committee overseeing this case. Uber paid Mr. Jacobs $4.5 million, and his lawyer $3 million, to settle his claims.
The Federal Rules obligate a party to produce known, relevant and reasonably accessible material that on its face is likely to be responsive to discovery requests. RFP 29 and RFP 73 were served on Uber on May 9, just a few days after Ms. Padilla received the Jacobs Letter on May 5. Uber was therefore obligated to conduct a reasonable inquiry into those requests (and all others it received) to see if it had documents responsive to those requests and produce non-privileged responsive documents.
Special Master John Cooper concluded by finding that the “Jacobs letter was responsive to Waymo’s Request for Production No. 29 and Request for Production No. 73, and Uber should have produced it to Waymo in response to those requests.” It was beyond the scope of his assignment as Special Master to determine the appropriate remedy. Uber will now probably challenge this report and Judge William Alsup will rule.
Like everyone else, I expect Judge Alsup will agree with Cooper’s report. The real question is what remedy will he provide to Waymo and what sanctions, if any, will Judge Alsuop impose.
At the hearing on the request for a trial delay on November 28, 2017, Judge William Alsop reportedly told Uber’s in-house attorney, Angella Padilla:
Maybe you’re in trouble … This document should have been produced … You wanted this case to go to trial so that they didn’t have the document, then it turns out the U.S. attorney did an unusual thing. Maybe the guy [Jacobs] is a disgruntled employee but that’s not your decision to make, that’s the jury’s.
The Recorder (November 29, 2017).
In response to Angella Padilla saying that Jacobs was just a “extortionist” and the allegations in his letter were untrue. Judge Alsup reportedly responded by saying:
Here’s the way it looks … You said it was a fantastic BS letter with no merit and yet you paid $4.5 million. To someone like me and people out there, mortals, that’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of money. And people don’t pay that kind of money for BS and you certainly don’t hire them as consultant if you think everything they’ve got to contribute is BS. On the surface it looks like you covered this up.
The Recorder (November 29, 2017).
Judge William Alsup is one of the finest judges on the federal bench today. He is a man of unquestioned integrity and intellectual acumen. He is a Harvard Law graduate, class of 1971, and former Law clerk for Justice William O. Douglas, Supreme Court of the United States, 1971-1972. How Judge Alsup reacts to the facts in Waymo LLC v. Uber Techs., Inc. now that he has the report of Special Master Cooper will likely have a profound impact on e-discovery and legal ethics for years to come.
No matter what actions Judge Alsup takes next, the actions of Uber and its attorneys in this case will be discussed for many years to come. Did the attorneys’ non-disclosure violate Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3, Candor Toward the Tribunal? Did they violate Rule 3.4, Fairness to Opposing Party and Counsel? Also, what about Rule 26(g) Federal Rules of Civil Procedure? Other rules of ethics and procedure? Did Uber’s actions violate the Sarbanes-Oxley Act? Other laws? Was it fraud?
Finally, and these are critical questions, did Uber breach their duty to preserve evidence when they knew that litigation was reasonably likely? Did their attorneys do so if they knew of these practices? What sanctions are appropriate for destruction of evidence under Rule 37(e) and the Court’s inherent authority? Should an adverse inference be imposed? A default judgment?
The preservation related issues are big questions that I suspect Judge Alsup will now address. These issues and his rulings, and that of other judges who will likely face the same issues soon in other cases, will impact many corporations, not just Uber. The use of software such as Wickr and Telegram is apparently already wide-spread. In what circumstances and for what types of communications may the use of such technologies place a company (or individual) at risk for severe sanctions in later litigation? Personally, I oppose intentionally ephemeral devices, where all information self-destructs, but, at the same time, I strongly support the right of encryption and privacy. It is a question of balance between openness and truth on the one hand, and privacy and security on the other. How attorneys and judges respond to these competing challenges will impact the quality of justice and life in America for many years to come.