Court of Appeal upholds award of over $140,000 to public agency to cover costs for responding to subpoena

2021 case review: Park v. Law Offices of Tracey Buck-Walsh

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Plaintiff Park filed a lawsuit alleging that his former attorneys, who had represented him from 2003 to 2012 in connection with his casino businesses were intentionally interfering with the expansion of that business. The law firm allegedly used confidential information gained as a result of their prior representation to assist his competitors and to prejudice regulators against Park’s purchase of two additional casinos. This allegedly amounted to breach of fiduciary duty and intentional interference with financial gain. The motivation of the law firm was ostensibly the fee dispute that had resulted in the severance of the attorney-client relationship.

To enable pursuit of his claims by establishing the sharing of confidential information, Plaintiff Park had issued subpoenas to the California Gambling Control Commission and the Bureau of Gambling Control, and more specifically Department of Justice (DOJ) and to Deputy Attorney General Torngren, who represents the Bureau of Gambling Control. Those subpoenas required the DOJ to review several hundred thousand documents, of which less than a hundred were actually responsive and produced.

The DOJ asked the Court to award compensation for the costs of doing the document review, and the trial court ordered Park to pay $32,836.25 to defray the “undue burden or expense” of the DOJ’s compliance with Park’s subpoena. When the production was complete, the court ordered Park to pay the DOJ an additional $111,618.75.

Park appealed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the award of costs under the Electronic Discovery Act in the Code of Civil Procedure, section 1985.8(l). Parties should take care to ensure their document subpoenas, even to governmental entities are narrowly tailored or risk ending up with a large bill.