October 16, 2007
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Courts, Litigation. Back in the early 1980s, when I was new to the Massachusetts Bar, there was an effort by the organized bar to codify the rules of evidence. That effort failed, and to this day the rules of evidence are a confusing patchwork of common law and legislative enactment. The “go to” source for the law of evidence has been, in the memory of almost all living Massachusetts attorneys, the Handbook of Massachusetts Evidence (8th Ed. 2006), by the former Chief Judge of the Supreme Judicial Court, Paul Liacos, and currently edited by Mark Brodin and Michael Avery. (The previous editions of this work were published in 1940, 1948, 1956, 1967 (when Justice Liacos took over), 1981 and 1993). However, the long-dead phoenix of evidence codification may be rising from the ashes, albeit in a slightly different form. In 2006 the SJC established an advisory committee to develop a “Guide” to evidence (not to be confused with “Rules” of evidence), and that Guide is now in its proposed form. The draft Massachusetts Guide to Evidence is available here (a 226 page pdf file). Not surprisingly, the Guide makes unabashed and extensive use of the Proposed Rules of Evidence which, although never formally adopted, have been cited in Liacos and to trial courts since their “non-adoption” in 1982. Go figure.
December 1, 2006
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At long last, the highly anticipated amendments to the new federal rules of civil procedure are here. The federal court system has amended its rules of procedure to address electronic discovery, aka “e-discovery”. The amendments became effective on December 1, 2006. Unfortunately, this news has been greeted with yawns from many attorneys who believe this is just another run-of-the-mill procedural change. Far from it; the e-discovery revolution represented by this rules change – and it is a revolution – is anything but ordinary, and the courts (which have been warming up to this issue for some time) have warned that its effects will be profound and far-reaching. The rule changes themselves may not appear earth-shattering, but they change the standard for both lawyers and clients as it relates to the exchange and management of information in litigation. Since the federal court system has provided summaries of the changes (see rules 16, 26, 33, 34, 37 and 45), we won’t go into fine detail. However, there are a few changes worth highlighting, including the obligations placed on litigants and the courts to confront e-discovery at the outset of a case (see rules 16 and 26), the definitional changes designed to address “electronically stored information” (see rules 26 and 34), and the “safe harbor” exception which protects parties from sanctions if data is lost during the routine, good-faith operation of their computer…