Finding data unseen Company finds its niche in e-discovery

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

A Detroit area insurance rep working for an Omaha firm started his own company using material from his current employer, then tried to sell his services to his employer's current customers.

He deleted the evidence from his computers -- or so he thought.

Computing Source of Southfield seized computers from the man's office and home, as well as his laptop and thumb drive to show the linkage between the two companies.

Busted.

"We'll get every last drop of electronic evidence," is the promise Computing Source president Mark St. Peter gives his clients, including that Omaha firm which received a favorable settlement.

Some people don't realize that when a computer file is deleted, the operating system deletes the pointers that tell the computer where the file is and marks the space as available to overwrite. But the computer doesn't actually delete the data, which can usually be recovered.

"When we take a computer and process it, it processes not only the data you can see, but the data you can't see," said St. Peter, a computer forensic expert who specializes in e-discovery for litigation. "In essence, we can get every bit of data that's on the hard drive, or laptop, or PDA, or whatever device we're processing for you."

St. Peter , 48, of Royal Oak, has worked in the computer field for 29 years, eight of which has been specifically with electronic discovery and computer forensics in the legal area. He developed that niche market when he realized few of his competitors serviced the litigation needs of lawyers

The Computing Source staff of 14 works with both plaintiffs' and defendants' legal teams as well as acting as an impartial third-party expert in both civil and criminal cases. Services include electronic discovery, computer forensics, data preservation, expert witness testimony, scanning and imaging, litigation support, and document review.

"Electronic discovery -- helping attorneys transport electronic information from Point A to Point B -- is by far the biggest part of our business," he said.

They can decipher magnet tapes, cell phones, flash drives, hard drives, floppy disks, PDA, and just about anything else, St. Peter said.

"In today's litigation, very little is about paper anymore," he said, noting that some studies show that more than 95 percent of information now is never set to paper.

St. Peter has learned a lot about court proceedings and digital case law since specializing in services for attorneys.

Especially intriguing, he said, is the whole topic of spoliation, the intentional or negligent withholding, hiding, altering or destroying evidence relevant to a legal proceeding.

One of his favorite cases took nearly five years, and involved the Japanese manufacturer of a thread that was used to weave a fabric used by Second Chance Body Armor of Michigan to make bullet-proof vests.

Lawsuits were filed against Second Chance on behalf of vest buyers in several states, claiming that the vests deteriorated in heat and humidity.

"It was a very challenging case, which is why it was one of my favorites," he said of the case, which settled out of court. "We had to match up Japanese documents with their English counterparts, making sure the database kept the relationship in tact."

He's had to teach attorneys a thing or two, also, especially when it comes to allowing adequate time for data-retrieval.

His business, which ebs and flows with the cycle of litigation, has been good, he said.

"It's good to have a niche," St. Peter noted.

Published: Tue, Jun 21, 2011

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