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My friend (Jane, NY resident) is being bullied by a high net worth person (John, father of her child) in family court(NY) but she is doing fine in that case despite having very little money and going up against extremely expensive lawyers. However, the child's father has brought civil criminal charges against her in California where Jane stayed on and off with him. We know that in reality, he is doing it as retaliation and abuse but, no way to prove that in court (yet?). He is a multimillionaire and has several law firms working for him,(her council in CA told her John must be spending ~$250k/month!) just on the criminal case (has one lawyer working on the custody case, but still an expensive one). Jane had an attorney in CA that helped her with a restraining order and recommended Arnold to defend her; Arnold is working on contingency. The problem is that I question his ethics and worry that John is colluding with him. Jane was going to use a few text messages in her defense but Arnold told her she would have to surrender every message taken off her phone. This sounded crazy and she decided to not submit anything. Arnold has recently asserted that the judge (CA) has ordered Jane to hand over any and all text messages where John is mentioned, even though she will not be using them in her defense. Is this really legal and part of discovery?

  • What are "civil criminal charges"? Usually "civil" cases (asking for money, injunctions, access to children) are distinct from "criminal" cases (where the accused can be punished, either by fines paid to the state, or by serving jail time). Is this what I would call a "private prosecution"? – Martin Bonner supports Monica Jun 12 at 8:53
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A party to a civil suit in a US court generally has wide latitude on discovery. If it is not completely implausible that one of those text messages might contain something helpful to the other side, then they might well be able to demand and obtain them. This would be true even if Jan has no plans to use any of them. If Jane thinks that there is something in some of those messages which should not be disclosed, she could, normally with the advice of hr lawyer, file a motion to limit discovery in some way. Whether there is good grounds for such a motion will depend on very specific details of the facts, and is beyond the scope of an answer at this forum.

It is true that Jane is only required to produce the messages if the judge in the case has in fact ordered this. It would be highly unethical for Jane's lawyer Arnold to lie to here about this. If he did so and got caught, it might cost him his license to practice law, plus additional penalties. If Jane seriously suspects that he is outright lying to her, and colluding with the opposing party, she needs to take steps to confirm or disprove this, or if she can do neither, to obtain a different lawyer.

  • thanks @Davis Siegel. Jane asked for the judges order and it looks like the judge did in fact order the action. I'm still suspicious of Arnold though, he's either corrupt or just not very good as his job. Problem is that Jane does not have many options since she is not wealthy and has had to cut down on her work hours to deal with everything in NY and CA. Meanwhile, John spends about $1mm/yr on personal security and lives off dividends. – Donum Jun 13 at 19:41
  • The likely impact on Arnold is overstated. In NY there is extremely little sanctioning of attorney actions, even when grossly unethical or incompetent. Simply put, the system by attorneys is configured to protect attorneys. – mongo Aug 15 at 14:57

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