Discovery and Disclosure: Why So Many Rules?
Your case thrives or dies under Arizona’s strict discovery and disclosure rules
After a lawsuit is filed and served on the defendant, and after the Defendant files a responsive Answer to the lawsuit, the case enters discovery and disclosure. During this extended period leading up to trial, the parties exchange, produce, and create evidence in the form of disclosure statements, examinations, depositions, written interrogatories (questions), documents, witness testimony, expert affidavits, and much more.
Rules 26-37 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure mandate strict deadlines and procedures for the disclosure of information pertaining to a case. The purpose of these rules is to ensure that all information relevant to the case is disclosed to the other party in a timely manner in order to avoid any surprises at trial.
There is a common misconception about trials that is reinforced by pop-culture interpretations of court-room proceedings. Surprise evidence, or gotcha moments, simply do not exist. A lawyer who attempts to introduce new evidence at trial would likely cause a mistrial.
Information that is disclosed after a deadline has expired can be deemed inadmissible simply for the fact that it is not timely. Fairness underlies every aspect of the civil disclosure and discovery rules. The deadlines are in place to allow the opposing party time to examine and rebut new evidence. This takes time. Judges will make exceptions to violations, but only with a showing of a reasonable cause for the violation. Examples of good cause include new information, information that was impossible to know until after a deadline has passed, or if lawyers stipulate, or agree, to deadline extensions.
Lawyers must build their case within these strict rules. This means that documents must be exchanged, witnesses named, and depositions taken, all well before trial. For this reason, it is important that clients are completely upfront with their attorney about any possible evidence that may hurt or harm them. If a party to a lawsuit is found to have been withholding relevant information, for fear that it may hurt the case, there can be dire consequences.
Likewise, if a client is unknowingly withholding valuable information and fails to inform his/her attorney, there is a good chance that evidence will not be admissible at trial due to untimely disclosure. Lawyers must know and follow all 258 pages of the Arizona Rules of Civil of Procedure in order to ensure a case can make it to completion. The same rules apply to those parties representing themselves. Without an understanding of the rules, they can become a field of landmines for your case and violations can result in case dismissal. If you plan to file a lawsuit, you need an experienced lawyer who can expertly navigate your case through to a successful outcome.