Courts Wrestle with Work Product Protection for Interview-Related Documents: Part II

July 20, 2016

Last week’s Privilege Point described a common but illogical judicial approach to witness interview notes, summaries, and reports — finding that witnesses’ verbatim statements in such documents at most can deserve only fact work product protection.

In Manitowoc Co. v. Kachmer, Case No. 14-cv-9271, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 61503 (N.D. Ill. May 10, 2016), defendants sought the audio recordings of Manitowoc’s outside lawyer’s deposition preparation interviews of five employees who were later terminated. The court first rejected Manitowoc’s privilege claim, because the interviewed employees were not in the protected “control group” under Illinois privilege law. The court also rejected the lawyer’s opinion work product claims. After examining the transcripts in camera, the court found that the lawyer’s “questions were simply not influential enough to take the Employees’ responses out of the realm of a witness’s factual assertions and into the realm of his own work product.” Id. at *9‑10. The court acknowledged that “[h]ad [the lawyer] taken the Employees’ statements by hand, or summarized the interviews in his own words, or in some way filtered or recorded only what he perceived to be the most important or relevant parts of the Employees’ statements, we would be much more inclined to believe that [the lawyer] had injected his own mental impressions or legal theories into the interviews.” Id. at *10. But after finding opinion work product protection unavailable, the court then inexplicably found that the audio recordings (after redaction of lawyer’s “later-inserted notes and impressions of the interviews”) did not even deserve fact work product protection. Id. at *2 & *10‑11.

Most courts take the same approach as the decision discussed in last week’s Privilege Point — applying at least fact work product protection to such verbatim witness statements. Next week’s Privilege Point will discuss another federal decision issued three days later.