Lawyer: IPI furloughs 585 employees due to Covid-19

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IMPERIAL Pacific International has furloughed about 585 employees due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, attorney Michael W. Dotts told the federal court in a notice of appearance to represent IPI on April 30.

Dotts said IPI is also working with its human resources department to verify its custodian’s employment status and contact information. 

“The HR department has also suffered from the furloughs and a comprehensive contact list has not been completed,” he told the court.

Since March 17, 2020, IPI has shut down its casino in Garapan as part of the island-wide efforts to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has ordered IPI to provide a status report on the requested documents of seven workers who have sued IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) over forced labor and human trafficking allegations.

Dotts told the court that the “first set of scanned and Bates-stamped paper production was transmitted to plaintiffs’ counsel on April 24, 2020. The transmission was by delivery of a CD containing roughly 1,000 pages of the most relevant documents.”

The lawyer said he has also been advised that all Electronically Stored Information data from the IPI computers has now been transmitted.

The actual size turned out to be closer to 1 terabyte, he added.

“Downloading the data in Singapore turned out to be problematic, likely due to bandwidth issues with the Internet here. In the end IPI sent a hard drive to Singapore by DHL. The hard drive was received on Sunday, April 26, 2020. The data was ingested by April 29, 2020. The data is now being processed,” Dotts said.

There are two steps in processing documents, he said: One is through Ingestion and the second is through Optical Character Recognition or OCR.

According to Dotts, Ingestion is complete and OCR is underway and should be completed soon.

He said the parties have agreed that the search will be performed once OCR is complete.

“The…search terms have been sent to Litigation Edge. Some practice searches have been run and have returned huge numbers of hits. For example, a search of the term ‘Mark Brown’ returned more than 29,000 hits. Of those 29,000 hits, about 14,000 were duplicative, leaving about 15,000 hits to review for attorney-client privilege. The parties will need to work together to reduce the number of relevant hits (like combining ‘Mark Brown’ with ‘MCC’) to make the results manageable,” Dott said.

He added that given the likely volume of responsive hits it will not be possible to meet the deadline of May 16 to produce a privilege log.

As for the eight phones of IPI, Dotts said two problems have arisen.

First, IPI has been closing rented offices and relocating to the offices at the casino now that the office construction has been completed. But this has resulted in a delay in downloading data, he added. Second, not all of the eight phones were in fact company phones, Dotts said.

He said based on further investigation three of the phones are issued by IPI and data from these phones will be downloaded on May 4.

Three belonged to employees and IPI has asked the owners if they would agree to allow their phones to be downloaded, Dotts said, adding that two indicated that they would not agree, and the third is considering it.

Dotts said the status of one phone is unclear, but the other is with IPI attorney Kelly Butcher who is currently off-island, but once she returns, her phone will be downloaded.

The plaintiffs in the case are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan. They are represented by attorneys Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline.

Halegua has opposed the motion of IPI for counsel substitution after the hotel-casino operator informed the court that it has terminated the services of two of its attorneys, Sean Frink and Catherine Cachero. IPI wants attorney Mike Dotts to  substitute as IPI lead counsel in the litigation.

Halegua said the motion for substitution will just delay the collection and production of discovery.

In a 17-page response, Dotts said IPI does not need to explain why it terminated the services of Frink and Cachero.

Dotts said the plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by withdrawal because “we are in the early stages of discovery and the clock is about to rewind when plaintiffs file their amended complaint.”

Moreover, he said, “granting withdrawal will not result in harm to the administration of justice because, again, this case is just starting out and substitution of counsel will not disrupt the management of this case.”

Lastly, Dotts said, “granting withdrawal will not unduly delay the resolution of the case because, again, we are still in the early stages of discovery, and again the clock will reset to the beginning of litigation once plaintiffs file their amended complaint on May 23, 2020.” 

Dotts said the assertion by the plaintiffs that the advocate-witness rule may bar him from representing IPI is “unsupported, as is the allegation that somehow he has a conflict of interest as a result of the prior representation of two companies [that had] some involvement with the workers, while the workers were working on Saipan.”

Dotts asked the court to grant the motion of IPI for counsel substitution because the company desires to retain him.

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