• October 17, 2012

LeSueur County Sheriff’s investigator Todd Waldron shot and killed Mark Steven Heilman in July, 2009.  Either he did so reasonably in self-defense as Heilman tried to choke Waldron or he did so unreasonably because…because why?

Why would a police officer just pull out a gun and shoot a stranger dead if not to save life or limb (the officer’s own or others’)?  He’d have to be crazy, right?  Maybe a testosterone-fueled rage brought on by muscle-building supplements???

To prevail in their civil lawsuit, plaintiff’s lawyers, including Jim Behrenbrinker, (previously profiled on Minnesota Litigator for his work in excessive force cases), will have to prove to a jury that Officer Waldron was basically nuts, had no legitimate reason to take Heilman’s life, and, consequently and unsurprisingly would be interested in the police officer’s medical records and mental health counseling records.

Officer Waldron’s counsel, on the other hand, have a radically different understanding of the tragic July 2009 event, an understanding that Heilman, not Waldron, was behaving violently.  So, from their point of view, plaintiff’s counsel’s efforts are an outrageous and unjustified invasion of privacy.

This is the kind of difficult discovery decision that our courts have to make every day.  The breadth of discovery in civil litigation in the United States is staggeringly broad when compared to much of the rest of the world’s legal systems.  But, because the U.S. system is an outlier, does that make it bad or is it extraordinary in a good way?

U.S. District Court Judge John R. Tunheim (D. Minn.) did not see the issues quite the same as U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau and reversed Judge Rau’s discovery order, in part.  (The recent order is here.)  This is one of the rare times when the District Court’s “extremely deferential” review of a magistrate judge’s discovery order was insufficient to insulate the order from reversal.

Seth Leventhal is a Minnesota litigator with over 15 years of experience in Minnesota civil litigation who appreciates the critical importance of confidentiality in the psychotherapist/patient relationship but also respects the challenge to courts and litigants of penetrating the inner workings of a person’s mind absent this potentially valuable data, which might be critical to resolving questions of motive, intent, malice (or its absence) etc.

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