• March 19, 2012

If you thought the twists and turns on Wisteria Lane were exciting, just add computer forensics to drama of the “Desperate Housewives” trial.
Nicollette Sheridan’s character was not supposed to die, according to her $6 million lawsuit against ABC and producer Marc Cherry, but was killed off after she complained to ABC executives that Cherry assaulted her.
On the last day of a trial, a surprise witness was called. Set construction coordinator Michael Reinhart testified that he received an email with the words, “Sheridan” “delete” and “IT.” He believed there was a conspiracy at ABC to cover up the killing off of Sheridan’s character. Reinhardt immediately deleted the email because “it wasn’t my business, and I didn’t want to make it my business.” This knowledge gnawed at him, however, and on the Sunday before the last week of trial he called Sheridan’s lawyer with this information.  
On cross examination, Reinhart conceded that “it is possible” he could have misunderstood the email.

ABC’s VP of Litigation, Jean Zoller, who sat at the defense table during the entire trial, took the stand. (How many times does a litigator get to testify at a trial he or she is trying?) She testified that she would “absolutely not” tell anyone to delete emails or documents related to Sheridan. On the contrary, she indicated that she sent out four legal hold/preservation memos.

Then Alexander Myers, counsel in Disney’s Electronic Discovery department, testified. Myers, who may now be the most famous or most googled eDiscovery attorney, described his role as the person responsible for the identification, collection, searching, and preservation of emails and electronic documents related to litigation. He duplicates what he has collected and provides these copies to the attorneys.

The scope of Myers’s collection consists of ABC computers and servers as well as the computers of staff members and contract employees.
But… on cross examination, Myers admitted that because the “Housewives” taping occurred at the Universal lot (you can see Wisteria Lane if you take the Universal Studios tour), most of those involved in this litigation used their own computers and personal emails, which would not have been monitored.
Legal hold policies and collection strategies may need to be altered in work environments that are off site and where employees and contractors use their own computers in order to include these devices.  

The judge ordered that Reinhart’s laptop be brought in for forensic examination (Reinhart, as it happened, had his computer in his truck so was able to bring it in after he testified), but denied a request to delay the trial. As forensic examinations can be time consuming, the trial may be complete before we find out its results. Another Wisteria Lane cliffhanger!

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