Judge finds Dell Inc. in contempt

By Becky Bohrer
Associated Press Writer / June 25, 2009
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NEW ORLEANS—A state court judge on Thursday found Dell Inc. in contempt of court, saying the computer company was making a "mockery" of the system with its alleged piecemeal production of documents in a civil lawsuit over New Orleans' crime camera system.

Judge Rosemary Ledet also ordered Texas-based Dell to pay $25,000 in sanctions. Plaintiffs' attorneys had requested nearly $182,000 in fees and expenses.

Dell attorney Phillip Wittmann disputed claims that the company was dragging its feet and playing games in discovery, saying that more than 160,000 pages of documents have been produced, e-mail and other information has been handed over as it's been uncovered and that the company has been acting in good faith.

But Ledet called the company's conduct "unconscionable," after hearing arguments from plaintiffs' attorneys that searches using such keywords as "camera" were not done for e-mail and other documents that may have been sent to or by Dell executives, including Chief Executive Michael Dell.

Plaintiffs' attorney Gladstone Jones said he "wasted my time" in Texas last week for Michael Dell's deposition because of the quality of the records' search.

Ledet ordered a search using specific words and said the sides can discuss how to proceed if the search yields a huge amount of records. She did not order that depositions, like Michael Dell's, be taken again.

Southern Electronics Supply Inc. and Active Solutions LLC sued in 2007, claiming the surveillance system they developed was misappropriated by people within and with ties to the city's technology department. They also allege a conspiracy with Dell to sell the system.

Dell has disputed the allegations, as have other defendants, including Mayor Ray Nagin.

The lawsuit is playing out amid the backdrop of a federal criminal investigation into the city's technology office and crime camera contracts. At least two people -- including Mark St. Pierre, whose technology company had ties to Greg Meffert while Meffert was the technology chief and is alleged to have paid for at least a portion of some trips taken by Nagin -- have acknowledged subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. Meffert attorney Randall Smith has maintained that the company, NetMethods, never did business with the city and said Meffert had Nagin's blessing to do outside work while at City Hall.

A watchdog group has sought an ethics investigation into the financing of some Nagin trips.

Trial in the civil lawsuit is currently set for September though Dell has sought to have the date pushed back, citing pending depositions and discovery. Plaintiffs' attorneys have resisted that, noting the federal investigation and what that might mean for their clients and case. Ledet also has shown little interest so far in any delay and said Thursday that she would revisit Dell's request for a continuance in August.