In this fourth episode of Star Trek Captain Kirk runs into the harsh realities of trial practice today. The animation is loosely based on a real world news event, the scandal surrounding Lester v. Allied Concrete, where there is a post-trial motion for sanctions for withholding email. For more detail on this Virginia state court case, which involves the past president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association and the state’s most powerful plaintiff’s law firm, see the ABA Journal article: Defense Seeks Reversal of $10.6M Death Award, Says Lawyer Didn’t Disclose ‘Stink Bomb’ Email (July 22, 2011). For more facts and allegations, see these two local Virginia paper articles: Attorney accused of lying in $10 mil wrongful death case, and ‘Stink-bomb’: Explosive allegations threaten $10-million award, career. For rebuttal see: Lawyer accused of email foul play defends actions.
The Enterprise is sent into this mess to protect a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Kirk is ordered to file a motion for sanctions, which he does over the protests of Mr. Spock. As usual, Captain Kirk is right and we have a teaching moment about the importance of sanctions practice to the integrity of our legal system, today and tomorrow.
POSTSCRIPT: The Judge on Planet Virginia later ruled. See here for the Order granting sanctions dated September 1, 2011. Of course Captain Kirk and his real world equivalents won the day (the $10 Million jury verdict was reduced in half), but neither side is satisfied and both have appealed. In a followup order dated October 21, 2011, the plaintiff’s counsel who was caught trying to hide Facebook evidence was sanctioned and personally ordered to pay $522,000 in fees. This may be the all time largest personal sanction against an attorney for e-discovery spoliation. The judge also referred to matter to the state Bar for ethics investigation.