Here’s something fun.
Today I received in the mail a response to several FOIA requests I had made. The package contained two previously secret litigation “field guides” for Department of Justice attorneys. I’ll be receiving more and will post them here when I do. The two we’ve received are linked at the bottom of this article.
I have written in the past about using the Freedom of Information Act to assist in immigration cases, because often the documents we need to defend our clients are in the hands of the federal government. This is the result of a FOIA request not related to a client’s actual file but the agency’s preparation materials.
FOIA Request for DOJ Handbooks: How to Take a Deposition
A DOJ attorney was reading through one of these field guides before a deposition I defended last year. It was spiral-bound and had a green cover and looked like a sort of basics handbook on how to take a deposition. Always curious, I made a note of the title and author and later made a FOIA request to the Department of Justice for this field guide.
In researching where the document might be and if it might already be in the public domain, I determined that the same author had written several field guides for DOJ attorneys, so I submitted a FOIA request for those too. It turned out that these field guides are in the Department of Justice library in Washington D.C., but they’re not accessible to the public and there was no other way to request them. So, we resorted to the FOIA.
My request was initially denied under the “trade secrets” exemption of the FOIA. The statute says the government doesn’t have to release documents if they contain “trade secrets.” But “trade secrets” don’t include basic training manuals for attorneys. I appealed the denial decision, citing a number of Tenth Circuit cases describing what “trade secrets” actually means, and my appeal was granted. Now the books have arrived.
How to Use These Resources
There is a lot here, and it will take a long time to fully process.
If nothing else, these are a helpful look into how DOJ attorneys will be preparing for depositions and for trial. As an attorney who regularly litigates against the federal government in asylum appeals and APA litigation, it’s helpful to know what we’re up against.
There are also a number of arguments in here about ways the federal government can avoid disclosing items in discovery or object to questions in depositions. Knowing these arguments in advance helps to defend against them.
Finally, these books are very well-written and would be a good reference manual for non-government counsel on how to conduct a deposition, how to prepare a witness for deposition, how to defend a deposition, and when/how to object to questions in a deposition.