Legislature Will Take Up E-Discovery Regulation
Bill's sponsor holds talks to iron out details on House bill for 2014 session
After several months' pause, state lawmakers, lawyers and business leaders have resumed negotiations over proposed legislation regulating e-discovery.
Georgia House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, held the first of several meetings with representatives from various sides last Tuesday in his legislative office.
"We're going through [the bill] to see if there are suggestions and ways it could be improved upon," Willard said. He expects the talks will result in an amended version of House Bill 643 to be filed by the start of the 2014 legislative session in January.
A task force of lawyers, headed by Cobb County Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Schuster, helped draft the legislation, which would set limits on the frequency and extent of parties' requests for the other sides' emails, text messages, spreadsheets and other electronically stored information.
The bill also would compel parties on both sides to confer and agree on an e-discovery plan, which would include a schedule, preservation requirements, details about the format in which the information would be produced and the method for asserting attorney-client privilege or proprietary status. If they cannot agree on a plan, they may ask a judge to intervene.
House Bill 643 was filed late during the last legislative session, and so it was not discussed or voted on in committee. Willard, who is also a local government lawyer, is the bill's primary sponsor.
Task force member Rocco Testani, a partner at Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan whose practice includes defending companies in civil litigation, noted that Georgia is one of the few states with no e-discovery regulations.
"Forty states have done something like this, including every single state that surrounds Georgia," Testani said. "What we're proposing is not cutting edge or unusual or out of the mainstream in any way. It's similar to what the federal system did in 2006."
A representative of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association said plaintiff's lawyers are skeptical of the bill, but he doesn't expect them to "fight tooth and nail" over it. "We have some skepticism, obviously, because [the bill] is the product of the business community and defense lawyers," said GTLA chief lobbyist Bill Clark, who attended Willard's meeting. "Our goal is going to be to see that it's done correctly and that the changes that are made are ones that improve the overall discovery process and not changes that unlevel the playing field of parties."
Much of the GTLA's skepticism lies in the concern that with regulation may come limitations, specifically regarding the scope of discovery in general.