Motion denied to compel county officials to produce documents

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published January 23, 2022

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MACOMB COUNTY — A federal judge has ruled that a former Macomb County leader’s request about certain documents was flawed from the beginning.

On Jan. 11, a virtual motion hearing was held before U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Stafford.

In December 2020, Rhonda Powell filed a complaint in federal court against Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel and Macomb County Deputy Executive John Paul Rea with a jury demand.

Powell is the former Macomb County Health and Community Services director and was fired in September 2019.

Court documents filed Jan. 12 outline that the court previously ordered the parties to meet and confer, and then file a joint list of unresolved issues. A hearing was held in August, where three stipulations were entered and orders extended the deadline for the parties to inform the court about remaining unresolved issues.

Stafford denied Powell’s motion to compel defendants to produce the documents in response to the request and denied as moot the rest of Powell’s motion to compel.

Court records indicate that, at the hearing, Powell’s counsel denied having consulted an e-discovery expert, and he had no evidence to counter defendants’ assertion that their production resulted from the search terms described in one of the requests.

The request asked the defendants to provide any and all documents in which any IT or technology services employee or contractor referenced Powell, her title or civil rights, from Feb. 1, 2018 to Feb. 1, 2020.

“Counsel also consulted no e-discovery expert when asserting that the .pst documents are not searchable,” it states. “Thus, Powell has no proof that defendants failed to properly respond to request No. 5 or violated the requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure that documents be produced in ‘reasonably usable form.’”

Stafford writes that Powell’s request about the documents was flawed from the beginning because it was not the product of a cooperative effort of counsel and e-discovery experts to design and test keyword searches.

The motion that was considered was to compel discovery and was filed by Powell in June 2021. It dealt with Hackel and Rea producing responsive discovery materials in answer and response to Powell’s discovery requests. It continues that Powell is suing the Macomb County executives for her discriminatory firing.

“Plaintiff was the highest ranking Black employee in Macomb County’s history and alleges that she was terminated for simply doing her job and attempting to address the discriminatory practices in Macomb County while she worked there,” it reads.    

Powell seeks $5 million in damages in the case.

The motion, filed by Powell’s attorney, Nabih Ayad, notes that Powell was terminated directly after reaching out to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights regarding the defendant’s alleged “discriminatory” practices.

In Hackel and Rea’s objections and answers to Powell’s written questions, filed by their attorney Terrence Miglio, it notes they generally object to each discovery request on the ground that it seeks information that is “neither relevant nor likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

Discovery is due by April 20 with a final pretrial conference reset for Sept. 12.