The Role of a Coordinating Discovery Attorney

“I solve problems…”  

We all have our favorite lines from the Quentin Tarantino movie, Pulp Fiction.  Mine is from the scene where Winston Wolfe, played by Harvey Keitel, arrives to clean up a mess caused by the accidental discharge of John Travolta’s handgun.  As lawyers, we’re called upon to “solve problems” and help clean up messes.  For me, it includes addressing how to handle terabytes of data that may include hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, tens of thousands of emails, hundreds of email attachments, tens of thousands of wire taps, body wires, GPS longitude and latitude data, hundreds of photos and many hours of video. 

But as investigative methods become more sophisticated, so do the means to cull through and organize massive amounts of discovery.  Picking the right tool is the key to “solving problems”.  It might mean creating sortable spreadsheets or retaining the services of state-of-the art web-based document repositories. 

For example, on multiple-defendant drug cases, we recommend using Excel spreadsheets to create sortable indices.  One of the spreadsheets is for the line sheets and corresponding wiretap audio files.  The other spreadsheet is for the remainder of the discovery and can include documents, photos, videos and body wire recordings.  Counsel can sort by defendant name, date, call number or any other subject for which we have entered information.  Each discovery item is hyperlinked to the spreadsheet; just sort down to a particular grouping and click on the hyperlink.  The document displays, audio plays or photograph opens. 

For fraud cases, which often include hundreds of thousands of pages of documents including emails, discovery can be hosted and accessed using an online document database.  Multiple defense team members can access, search, sort and identify documents simultaneously using sophisticated search features.  Online database programs have capacities to manage huge amounts of discovery – far greater than any desktop application.  They also have features to help find key documents, tag them for their importance and even save them for later review. 

I can help solve your problems.  I am a CJA Panel Attorney in Seattle, Washington.  I am under contract with the Administrative Office of U.S. Court, Office of Defender Services as a Coordinating Discovery Attorney (“CDA”) to support your work on multi-defendant prosecutions involving large amounts of discovery.  My job is to help you strategize and implement ways to use technology to create cost effective ways to better represent clients in massive discovery cases for CJA panel attorneys and FDO staff across the country. 

I evaluate each lawyer’s level of computer sophistication; identify the types of discovery involved; assist in determining how best to distribute the discovery; determine what technology and other resources are necessary for discovery review and management; and help in maintaining quality control of the discovery review process. 

I focus on a limited number of cases each year that have been identified by the National Litigation Support Team (“NLST”) as needing a CDA, whether due to the complexity of the matter, the number of parties involved, or the nature and/or volume of the discovery.  After an initial consultation with the NLST, and a second one with me, a decision will be made about the use of my services. 

The factors that are considered in determining whether a CDA should work on a particular case are:

  • Whether the number of co-defendants is so large as to create a risk of costly duplicative efforts, which could otherwise be eliminated or reduced upon the appointment of a CDA, or whether there are other factors that create a likelihood that the CDA’s participation would enable costs to be contained;
  • Whether the volume of discovery is so large that addressing the Organizational needs in the case would interfere with defense counsel’s ability to address the legal and factual issues in a case;
  • Whether unusual organizational or technological issues exist, not commonly found even in complex cases, that would interfere with defense counsel’s ability to address the legal and factual issues in a case;
  • Whether the case is prosecuted in a region that lacks experts who can provide necessary technology support and document management expertise in addressing the factors described above;
  • Whether the timing of the request, which preferably should be made early in a case, is such that the CDA’s participation is likely to be of assistance to defense counsel, promote efficiency, and contain costs; and,
  • The CDA’s workload.

All these factors need not be present.  Any final determination will be made by the National Litigation Support Administrator.  In determining how much weight to provide each factor, the seriousness of the alleged offense will be factored into any decision.

If approved, CJA panel counsel then petitions the court for my appointment.  By having the court appoint, I will have standing to confer directly with the prosecution on issues of discovery, which allows for better coordination and overall cost-efficiencies regarding information exchange.  I will examine the discovery and propose a plan of action.  If counsel agrees, we’re on our way.  If outside services are necessary, the proposed services of vendors will be evaluated and competitive price quotes obtained.  I will recommend to the court the proposed strategy and petition for the necessary funds.  Throughout the project, work will be monitored to make sure it is being performed properly and in an expeditious manner. 

Russell M. Aoki,

Coordinating Discovery Attorney

If you have any questions regarding the services of a CDA, please contact either: