Environmental lawyer job outlook. Under what circumstances in discovery could a party be sanctioned? Ask the lawyer Daily Bulletin

Q: We were asked a lot of written questions in discovery, but many are far afield. The other side filed a motion arguing we must provide all the information, and asked the court to sanction us for $3,500. On what basis could the court sanction us? Ask a lawyer.

A: Sanctions on discovery motions may be issued by the court — against one side or the other — if the court finds that the conduct of the party was not “substantially justified.” You do not provide all the circumstances pertaining to the matter, but if you and your counsel acted in good faith, timely responded and made real effort to work things out (to no avail), sanctions should not be likely against you.

Q: If a party in a civil case seeks highly intrusive information, do you have to comply? You can’t keep anything confidential?

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A: When a party overreaches, seeks to require details that go beyond the pale, or seeks information entitled to confidentiality, you are entitled to ask the court for a protective order. The court has discretion to grant such an order, and to thereby foreclose the effort to require disclosure, or to fashion an order that permits disclosure subject to certain conditions (eg., the matter is only available to certain people, and/or may be submitted under seal, pending further court order).

Q: We are hearing that a discovery referee may be appointed in our case. What is that?

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A: The discovery referee is appointed by the court to handle discovery issues. Often it will be a retired judge, and the discovery referee may be entitled to charge the parties for his or her services. A referee is not common, but if the issues are particularly complex or sensitive, or the parties show an ongoing inability to cooperate to any appreciable degree in discovery, the court has discretion to appoint a third person to serve as the discovery referee. Typically the referee’s findings are not final, but are reviewed by the court and thus subject to its approval (or otherwise).

Ron Sokol is a Manhattan Beach attorney with more than 35 years of experience. His column, which appears in print on Wednesdays, presents a summary of the law and should not be construed as legal advice. Email questions and comments to him at or write to him at Ask the Lawyer, Daily Breeze, 400 Continental Blvd, Suite 600, El Segundo, CA 90245.

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