A Compelling Discovery — Rules and Sanctions!
When parties disagree about discovery requests, they can try to work it out among themselves. If that fails they turn to the trial judge. Rule 2-432 allows parties to file motions with the court to compel the opposing party to hand over certain documents or provide more complete information. The judge will review the motion and decide whether the information being sought is discoverable in the case. The judge may prod the parties to work it out (sometimes a judge, frustrated by needless roadblocks put up parties’ counsel will strongly encourage the lawyers to work it out), or the judge may issue an order compelling that certain information be handed over. If one party has a continuing and chronic problem meeting discovery requests, the other party can request sanctions under Rule 2-433. Sanctions can hurt the non-compliant party’s case in a number of ways, including barring that party from some of the relief they seek or by establishing certain facts that may be adverse to that party as true for the purposes of the suit.
Properly complying with the rules of discovery is important. The process of discovery is supposed to be completed at a certain time. If it is not, or certain evidence is introduced late where the other party didn’t have adequate time to review it, the judge can bar the evidence in its entirety. For example, in a case before the Court of Special Appeals, the Court agreed with the trial judge’s decision to disallow affidavits that were produced only four days before a trial dealing with lead paint in a landlord-tenant suit. See Bartholomee v. Casey, 103 Md.App. 34 (1994). The case had been pending for years, so producing new evidence – relevant or not – only days before the case was set to go to trial and after discovery requests were previously filed was deemed prejudicial.
The importance of the discovery phase cannot be overstated. Clients need to cooperate with their attorney and proceed in a timely manner in ensuring that requests for information are fulfilled. Clients often wonder if everything requested is really necessary, but if it is relevant to the case, it must be provided. The costs of delay can be high, between sanctions or the inclusion or exclusion of evidence that might be the difference in a case’s outcome. Your attorney will manage the discovery process, deal with requests coming in from opposing counsel, and will manage the information coming in that was requested from the other side. But just as it is important that the two opposing sides cooperate during the discovery phase in ensuring relevant discovery requests are properly met, so too is it important for clients and attorneys to cooperate in meeting and fulfilling the demands of discovery in a timely and professional manner. The outcome of the case depends on it.
Fred Antenberg is an attorney in Columbia, Maryland that handles family law matters in Howard County, Maryland and surrounding counties. Call Fred at 410-730-4404.