Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Case Law Development: Divorce Litigant's Threats to Kill Judge and Attorneys Not Protected by Attorney-Client Privilege
This case is a window on the divorce attorney's worst nightmare - the client who threatens violence in retaliation for divorce. A divorce attorney heard her client make repeated threats to kill the judges and opposing counsel. The content of the statements is detailed in the opinion. She tape recorded one of these phone messages and called the police. This case would be provide a useful "how would you handle it?" class discussion.
In the subsequent criminal action for threatening a judge, the trial court ruled that "because Defendant did not make the threats to his attorney for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services said statements were not covered by the attorney-client privilege." The Utah Court of Appeal's affirmed on the alternative ground of waiver, finding that because client's defense counsel stipulated to admission of the divorce attorney's testimony and the tape recorded conversation, defendant had waived the attorney-client privilege.
(The central issue in the case was whether the threats need to have been communicated to the judge in order to violate the statute. The court holds that they do not.)
Utah v. Jeffrey K. Johnson, 2008 UT App (January 4, 2008)
Opinion will be available at the Utah Court website (last visited January 8, 2008 bgf)