Sunday, July 3, 2022

In H2GO case, Leland asks court permission to withhold communication records

Will Superior Court Judge Charles Henry protect Leland from disclosing communication records it doesn't want to fork over to Belville? In the most recent move in the H2GO case, Leland asked for a protective order, citing information its rival is seeking is privileged.

After failing to reach an agreement in mediation in November, Leland filed a motion for a protective order that would block certain communication records from reaching the public. (Port City Daily/File photo)
After failing to reach an agreement in mediation in November, Leland filed a motion for a protective order that would block certain communication records from reaching the public. (Port City Daily/File photo)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Leland doesn’t want the court, the public, and most importantly, its rival Belville, to gain access to communications records between the town and H2GO’s board.

In requesting a protective order to prevent the disclosure of certain information, Leland asks the court to let the town to keep some documents from sunshine.

RELATED: Leland and Belville’s 30-year rivalry is the key to understanding the complex H2GO case

The town cited attorney-client and common-interest privilege in a recent motion in its year-long effort to sue Belville. Surrounding a contested Nov. 2017 move, the case questions the transfer of all $60 million in Brunswick Regional Water Sewer H2GO’s assets to Belville, assets Leland was previously after on its own accord.

According to North Carolina Rule 26(c), protective orders may be issued “to protect a party or person from unreasonable annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.”

On Dec. 5, Leland cited this line in its motion for a protective order. Typically, protective orders are granted to prevent the disclosure of information in the event one party is found to be abusing discovery rights.

The request for a protective order came just one week after all parties — Leland and H2GO, aligned together against Belville — met for private mediation. Mediation was held on Nov. 27, 2018, nearly a year to the day the contested transfer took place.

No agreement came from the meeting. And without an agreement, the parties reached an impasse.

Records requested

Leland asked for the court’s protection on at least 13 separate information requests. The requests referenced range in nature and were not all available in public court filings.

The town did cite one specific request as an example: Belville asked Leland to identify all communications between Leland, H2GO, and any attorneys representing either party, from Nov. 28, 2017 through the present in reference to H2GO’s Dec. 4, 2017 resolution that attempted to reverse the transfer.

The request states if such communications are protected from disclosure by joint defense or common interest privileges, that Leland must state the date that it finds such privileges first applied.

“Many of the requests are similar in nature,” the motion for a protective order states. “Belville requests to seek information, documents, and communications are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

Protected information?

Information can be protected from disclosure through attorney-client privilege, which can also extend to common and joint interest privilege. These privileges protect the same clients represented by different lawyers. They also extend to communications shared by parties that share common litigations interests.

Leland argues these privileges apply to their records. The town argues in its protective order motion that communications between the town and H2GO’s board have been protected under joint common interest privilege since Nov. 28.

Without this protection, such communications between public officials could be considered public record under North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 132.

(Author’s note: Port City Daily has submitted a similar — unrelated — request to Leland, one that was received in October but has since gone unanswered.)

Belville’s requests are “burdensome and unreasonable,” Leland argues. But Belville recently accused Leland of virtually the same thing.

Belville’s attorney, James Elridge, said Leland had submitted 121 requests for the production of documents. These requests were all met, Elridge wrote in an Aug. 30 objection. “[Belville] incurred significant costs in responding Leland’s interrogatories and requests for the production of documents,” the objection states.

According to a Nov. 2018 scheduling order, the parties’ mediation must be completed by Jan. 18, 2019, with all discovery due by the first of Feb.


Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

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