Kirkland & Ellis LLP “should be embarrassed” by the way it stonewalled information requests from a legal recruiting firm trying to enforce a noncompetition agreement against a former employee, a federal judge in Texas said Monday.
The firm’s “petty, technical, overly-argumentative emails are a study in what is wrong with civil discovery in our court system today,” Judge Andrew W. Austin said for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.
MWK Recruiting Inc., the parent company of Kinney Recruiting, wanted to know what communications and monies Kirkland & Ellis exchanged with its former employee, Evan Jowers, in the year after Jowers left Kinney for Legis Ventures Hong Kong Co. Ltd. MWK also wanted information about attorneys placed with Kirkland & Ellis through Jowers or Legis during that same time period.
Kirkland & Ellis chose to repeatedly argue via email about the scope of the information request over the course of several months and to insist that MWK could obtain that information from Jowers himself, the court said.
MWK turned to the court only after several failed attempts to reach common ground on what information could be passed along, “forcing all parties, the court included, to expend resources unnecessarily,” the court said.
It greenlit MWK’s motion to compel and took the time to call out Kirkland & Ellis’ demand to quash the subpoena and an accompanying request for attorneys’ fees as “audacious,” saying the law firm itself picked this fight.
“Apparently it believes obstinance is worth rewarding,” the court said. “Far from it.”
Jowers further failed to convince the court that he’s just a Legis employee and therefore unable to access certain requested materials allegedly under Legis’ control that may be related to claims that Jowers breached his nonsolicitation and noncompetition agreements and misappropriated trade secrets.
Jowers referred to himself as Legis’ founder in communications with another prominent law firm, Latham & Watkins LLP, and sent invoices to law firms on Legis’ behalf, the court said. Legis’ URL and domain name is “www.evanjowers.com,” the court said.
It ordered Jowers to produce the documents requested by MWK, whether under his personal control or under Legis’ control, though the court declined to extend the production period beyond the year after Jowers left MWK. The employment agreement restricted Jowers’ ability to compete with MWK for one year, so “the likelihood that a placement relates to a prohibited candidate begins to diminish” beyond that mark, the court said.
Loanzon LLP, the Mort Law Firm PLLC, and Robert E. Kinney, Attorney at Law, represent MWK.
DLA Piper represents Jowers. Grotefeld Hoffmann Schleiter Gordon Ochoa & Evinger LLP represents Kirkland & Ellis.
The case is MWK Recruiting, Inc. v. Jowers, W.D. Tex., No. 18-cv-00444, 4/27/20.