The WSJ Law Blog on a malpractice suit, alleging that discovery mistakes led to a $107 million settlement [to which] the company would not have otherwise agreed:

According to the complaint, the North Carolina federal court in which the underlying litigation occurred, held that it was “under Kaye Scholer’s watch” that Celanese was sanctioned for “discovery abuse,” which the Court described as “egregious.” The North Carolina court, as quoted in the complaint filed against Kaye Scholer, wrote: “The court is not unmindful of the positions urged by [Celanese], but in the context of the trove of documents it held in the wings just out of sight of the non-class plaintiffs, these positions can’t be seen as coherent or compelling.”

In a June 2006 order, a North Carolina judge sanctioned Celanese $114,000 in fees and expenses, but said he would consider further sanctions on evaluating the impact of the discovery misconduct. An October 2006 sanctions motion by plaintiffs asked for a range of findings against Celanese, according to the NYLJ, including one that the company acted in bad faith and that an adverse inference should be drawn against it on key issues.

The judge said he would evaluate the need for such sanctions as the case proceeded. Celanese said in its suit that the prospect of sanctions that would have hampered its ability to defend itself at trial forced it to enter into a settlement in May 2008.

Hmmm. That is a tough argument. While an actual order instructing the jury to draw an adverse inference against the company would have prejudiced its interests, it is hard to say that a motion requesting an order is a but for cause of an unfavorable settlement.

Obviously, in the real world settlement takes place in the totality of circumstances, and I’m sure the pending motion was on their minds, but I have serious doubts that the motion would itself cause the defendants to settle for over $100 million.

I am willing to bet the documents withheld by Kaye Scholer were devastating to Celanese (otherwise, why withhold them?); once the plaintiffs had them, it was simply a discussion of numbers, with or without the adverse inference.

Moreover, an adverse inference would not have, standing alone, "hampered its ability to defend itself at trial." It would merely have been a unfavorable jury instruction at the end of trial, one that defense counsel would be permitted to argue to the jury was inappropriate because it was the lawyer’s fault, not the client’s. Every day in America defendants blame their lawyers at trial — what would have stopped them here?