(CN) – A Sacramento attorney and her clients acted in bad faith when they had third parties view and copy sealed court documents that were accidently placed in the public file in an ongoing trade-secrets dispute, a California appeals court ruled.
The court upheld a sanction of more than $43,000 against Joanna Mendoza and clients Dale and James Wallis and Hygieia Biological Laboratories. The justices ruled that Mendoza should have sought guidance from the trial court when she discovered the confidential documents in public record.
The documents stem from a 1994 lawsuit filed by client Dale Wallis, who accused former employer PHL Associates of using a vaccine that she invented.
Mendoze notified her clients that a sealed declaration filed by PHL’s attorney, along with attachments containing alleged trade secrets, were publicly available in the court file.
In their appeal, Mendoza and her clients argued that the document was not entitled to protective status, and that the trial court acted prematurely in imposing the sanction because the status of the document after it was placed in the public file was unclear. Mendoza also said she warned PHL’s counsel that the documents were in public record.
Justice Nicholson said the file’s misplacement had no effect on the status of the information and is unrelated to Mendoza’s actions. Mendoza “surreptitiously informed the Wallises of the unprotected materials with the intent to disclose the materials, which was a violation of the protective order,” Nicholson wrote.