Debtor’s prisons may have been abolished in the United States in the 19th Century but in the electronic discovery context you can still wind up in jail unless you pay the adversary’s legal fees.

Over the last four years, there have been over 500 decisions in which litigants and on occasion their counsel have been admonished, severely sanctioned, precluded from pursuing claims or issues.   A recent decision from the Federal District Court in Maryland illustrates the kinds of risks that are involved when these obligations are not taken seriously.

In Victor Stanley v. Creative Pipe,  (D. Maryland 2010) , the Court determined that defendant delayed, deleted and destroyed evidence despite the pendency of the action and court orders to preserve the information.  Not only did defendant lose the right to contest the case but here’s the kicker:  the Court also held the defendant in civil contempt and directed that he be jailed for a term of up to two years until he paid the adversaries’ legal fees.

What the last four years of judicial decisions concerning e-discovery has taught is that taking a cavalier attitude about the litigant’s obligations can have severe consequences, including, now, the loss of liberty.