Every law firm’s fear: translator decides to keep documents she translated and become whistle blower


Whistle blower


25 September 2014 – A translator who provided internal Toyota documents to news reporters has objected to the carmaker’s requests for sanctions against her for alleged failure to obey a protective order in litigation over sudden acceleration.

Betsy Benjaminson … who lives in Israel and is a self-described whistleblower … was working as a translator for Linguistic Services Inc. which had been retained by Debevoise & Plimpton which represented Toyota while the government investigated the company for criminal liability.

Benjaminson’s position is that Toyota’s internal documents revealed that its public statements about sudden unintended acceleration did not match its statements to investigators, Congress, and the public about the important vehicle safety concerns at issue. According to her attorney, she is no “rogue” translator.

Toyota wants her sanctioned for alleged failure to obey a protective order in litigation over the sudden acceleration investigation. She says Toyota was trying to use the powers of the court to censor her legal speech. And there is a bona fide dispute as to whether the vast majority of the Toyota documents in her possession are covered by the protective order since the translation work for LSI started years before she was asked to sign the protective order, and ended months before she signed it in June 2012 in conjunction with starting work for a different translation agency.

Toyota was hiding the truth about what caused the sudden unintended acceleration, she believed. They were blaming floor mats and many other causes, the “ghost in the machine” as one Toyota PR suit said. But the ghost wasn’t floor mats or driver error, and the company knew it she says.

As a translator, Benjaminson had access to thousands of Toyota’s classified documents spanning from 2002-2010, mostly run-of-the-mill accident reports and records of repairs, but also internal business memos and emails from engineers. As the months went by, a pattern began to emerge from the static of the corporate correspondence and technical manuals, an occasional whisper that turned increasingly into a roar she could not ignore.

As Benjaminson dug deeper, she felt she had no choice but to reveal what she saw, consequences be damned.

Despite the strident denials from Toyota, and the US government reports, Benjaminson felt that the documents in her hands proved that Toyota engineers knew there was a serious problem with their cars causing sudden acceleration, something well beyond oversized floor mats.

Not surprisingly, Benjaminson was fired by her translation agency after they found out she was behind the leaks.

But since her name was still not public, she landed another client who paid well for legal translations. Benjaminson also began working with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, feeding his whistle-blower program documents with which to initiate Judiciary Committee investigations into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s study.

In December 2012, Toyota settled a class action lawsuit for $1.3 billion, but the settlement kept all the technical facts secret. Corporate Counsel magazine conducted an in-depth investigation of exactly what the secrets were, and in March 2013, with the publication of the article, her name was made public.

She has lost a lot of income, but in the end she says “maybe it was stupid,but I was honest”.

We spoke with litigation managers at two AmLaw 100 firms in D.C. and they both said the case is a prime example of the security concerns regarding remote access document reviews and why neither firm allows them. They detailed the security structures they have for secure remote access for law firm employees, and also noted the easily-employed systems that can be used to control file/print/control access should a law firm or corporate client permit remote review. In fact, one of the firms employs that technology for in-house reviews to prevent documents from going out the door.

However … as always … money seems to rule. As the directors at two staffing agencies told us: “we can price remote reviews at a much, much lower cost for the client than an in-house review and that is why they are becoming so popular, especially translation projects”.

About the Author Gregory P. Bufithis, Esq.

Gregory P. Bufithis is the Founder & Chairman of The Posse List. He has over 25 years of experience in intellectual property law and digital media in the U.S. and Europe.

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