Don’t Forget the Text Messages!

I hear so many attorneys declare that they don’t have to worry about e-discovery – either because they do not have huge corporate clients or that their clients aren’t “sophisticated” enough to use a computer.

My next question to them is usually “does your client use a cell phone?”

text messages.jpgWhere there’s a cell phone, there’s probably a text message. Text messaging is a simple, convenient, seemingly innocuous method of trading quick messages when a phone call or e-mail message might not be proper or possible. And because a text message seems like a private, innocent, little digital conversation between two tiny, insignificant mobile phones, inhibitions are routinely left at the keypad. But text messages, just like e-mail and all other electronic files, have a knack for sticking around, even through superficial attempts at deleting them.

The mayor of Detroit, MI found all this out the hard way. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his female Chief of Staff, Christine Beatty, were apparently involved in an extra-marital affair several years ago. When a Detroit policeman on the mayor’s guard duty “blew the whistle” on the couple, he lost and job. He sued the city and when the mayor and Ms. Beatty took the stand, they denied that any relationship ever existed.

Last month, the Detroit Free Press obtained and released excerpts from at least 14,000 text messages sent between Mayor Kilpatrick and Ms. Beatty during 2002 and 2003 and now displays those excerpts for your convenience in both text and photos.

While I realize that many attorneys won’t have the mayor of Detroit as a client, it is important to remember that cell phones from anyone can hold relevant, discoverable information. As stated in a story from Crain’s Detroit Business (via edd blog online):

Kilpatrick and Beatty are public figures with fewer rights of privacy than most citizens. But once even private citizens start using company equipment in their communications — whether it’s e-mail from the office computer or text messages from the company cell phone or BlackBerry — expectations of privacy disappear.

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