A human rights lawyer in Washington who has long pursued cases against multinational companies is now entangled in a subpoena spat with coal miner Drummond Co., which is suing the attorney and his firm for alleged defamation.
The lawyer, Terry Collingsworth, the managing partner of the Washington office of Conrad & Scherer, on August 16 asked a federal trial judge in Washington to quash subpoenas that Drummond's counsel served on two groups affiliated with Collingsworth—International Rights Advocates and International Labor Rights Forum.
Collingsworth is the executive director of the Washington-based non-profit International Rights Advocates; he formerly served as general counsel of the labor rights group. Collingsworth, who joined Conrad & Scherer in 2008, is lead counsel in a human rights suit against Drummond that's pending in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.
A lawyer for Collingsworth, Conrad & Scherer senior associate Christian Levesque, said in the court papers filed last week in Washington that Drummond "seeks for the third time the same documents from the same people." Levesque wrote that "the intent of this serial discovery is clearly to harass Mr. Collingsworth and his staff." Drummond wants information about, among other things, payments and contacts in Colombia.
Levesque argued in the subpoena fight papers that Collingsworth's "interest in protecting any privileged information held by IRAdvocates or ILRF is self-evident." The requested documents, she said, are protected by the attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product doctrine.
A lawyer for Drummond, William Davis III, a senior partner at Starnes Davis Florie in Birmingham, Alabama, where the coal production company is based, wasn't immediately reached for comment this afternoon.
Drummond filed the defamation suit against Collingsworth and Conrad & Scherer in Alabama federal district court in late 2011. The suit is based on three letters Collingsworth wrote in 2011 to Dutch officials and a Japanese chief executive officer.
Drummond's attorneys said in court papers in the defamation case that "a lawyer sent facially defamatory letters to Drummond's customers and business partners urging them to terminate all business relationships with Drummond, and had those letters immediately published onto the internet, most likely before they even reached their intended recipients."
"That lawyer, not surprisingly, now finds himself as a defendant to a defamation suit," Drummond's lawyers, including Starnes partner H. Thomas Wells III and D.C. solo practitioner Sara Kropf, wrote in papers filed in July.
Collingsworth's lawyers contend Drummond, which faces allegations of human rights abuses in Colombia, is on a "fishing expedition" seeking "broad, likely irrelevant" information from third-parties. Levesque said responsive, non-privileged information has already been disclosed to Drummond.
The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Drummond's lawyers haven't yet responded to the Collingsworth's effort to quash the subpoenas. No hearing date is set.