Visualizing Hawaii: A GC’s Perspective or the Case of the Silent Wife


ABC Systems is a mid-size technology company based in the U.S. that designs and manufactures wireless routers…

Its 1:52 pm on the Friday before you leave on a much anticipated 2 week vacation in Hawaii. You’re having difficulty not thinking about what the next two weeks hold. You talk yourself into powering through the 176 emails you received since yesterday when you notice your administrative assistant has put an actual letter on your desk while you were daydreaming…

It’s a letter from the law offices of Lewis, Lewis & Tolson informing you that their client, ACME Systems, is suing your company for $225 million for conspiracy to harm ACME’s reputation and future sales by spreading false information about their newest product line. You’re told that the plaintiff has documentation (an email) from an ABC Systems employee outlining the conspiracy. You also receive a copy of the “smoking gun” email…

————
From: Ted                                                                                                                          

Date: June 2, 2012

To: Rick

Re: ACME Systems new solutions

“I would say we need to spread as much mis-information and lies about their solution’s capabilities as possible.  We need to throw up as much FUD as we can when we talk to the analyst community to give us time to get our new application to market.  Maybe we can make up a lie about them stealing their IP from a Chinese company.”

————

You’ve got to be kidding me! Once this news gets out the stock will be hit, the board will want an explanation and estimate of potential damage to the company reputation, our channel partners will want to have a legal opinion on the sales in the pipeline, the direct sales force will want a document to give to their potential customers, and the CEO will want estimates of merit etc. as soon as possible…There goes the vacation…and probably my marriage.

Scenario #1

Now what do I do now?

  1. Find out who this “Ted” guy is! (Don’t forget “Rick”)
  2. Find out who Ted and Rick reports to and what department they work in
  3. Call the VP of IT and give her a heads up on what you are going to be asking for
  4. Call your outside counsel and alert them as well
  5. Send an email to the VP of IT (and CC outside counsel) asking her to immediately secure Ted and Rick’s email accounts and any email backup tapes
  6. Send an email to Ted and Rick (and CC outside counsel) asking them to actively collect and secure under a litigation hold any documents and email that has anything to do with ABC Systems (strange thing is the email system has no one by the name of TED in it)
  7. Ask the VP of IT to find the original email from Ted to Rick and any other email messages involved in that conversation thread
  8. Get on the phone to the CEO and update him
  9. Call your wife and tell her to cancel the vacation plans

Five minutes after your wife hangs up on you in mid-sentence the VP of IT calls and informs you that the company has a 90 day email retention policy and recycles backup tapes every 6 months…the original emails don’t exist anymore. And by the way, after speaking to the VP of HR she discovered Ted had left the company 8 months ago. The only hope is that Rick kept local copies of his emails. By this time its 5:37 pm and Rick has gone home – with his laptop.

Monday morning Rick is surprised to find several people from legal and IT waiting at his desk when he arrives. It turns out Rick actually archives his email instead of letting the system delete it after 90 days into a PST file. Rick locates his 4.5 GB PST file on his share drive but for some reason it won’t open. Several members from the IT department spend two hours trying to get it open but determine its probably corrupted because its too big (PSTs have this nasty habit of letting the user keep stuffing files into it even though its already too big).

IT sends the PST off to a consultant to see if they can open it. After three weeks and $17,553 you are told it’s completely corrupted and can’t be opened!

During those three weeks you spend $4,300 tracking down Ted who doesn’t remember why he would have written an email like that. He does vaguely remember Jennifer may have been part of that conversation thread. 4.5 hours later combing through Jennifer’s PST, (why does everyone have a PST if we made a point to delete emails after 90 days?) you actually find a forwarded version of the email from Ted…It really does exist!

You determine it will be impossible to assemble the entire conversation thread so after several months of negotiating with ACME Systems Attorneys, you settle for $35 million and an apology printed on the front page of the Wall Street Journal…and your wife stopped talking to you.

Tune in tomorrow to catch up on the further adventures of Ted, Rick, Jennifer, ABC Systems, and the strangely silent wife…

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