Thursday, October 19, 2006
A New York Times article (here) discusses the direction of the government's ongoing investigation of Anthony Pellicano, the so-called "PI to the Stars" who worked with, most prominently, leading Los Angeles attorney Bert Fields. Pellicano has been under indictment since February 2006 on conspiracy and wiretapping charges that allege he engaged in illegal wiretaps to help out attorneys in various cases, many involving leading Hollywood stars and some of them represented by Fields' Century City firm, Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman & Machtinger. According to the Times, approximately ten lawyers from Greenberg Glusker have been called before a federal grand jury to testify about Fields' involvement in Pellicano's activities.
There are a couple of interesting aspects to this phase of the grand jury investigation. First, the lawyers are being questioned about the firm's representation of clients, so there are probably some sticky attorney-client privilege and work product issues that had to be worked out. Perhaps the clients waived the privilege and allowed the attorney's to testify, although that would probably involve a number of waivers, and some might not be particularly willing to do that if it turns out Pellicano worked on their cases. The government could argue the crime-fraud exception as the basis for obtaining the testimony, but that would require proving possible criminal or fraudulent conduct in every representation. Courts are leery of simply ordering wide-spread disclosure of otherwise privileged or protected information in the name of the crime-fraud exception without proof that a specific representation involved such conduct.
Second, the article states that counsel for the lawyer-witnesses "refused to speak publicly, citing grand jury secrecy rules." While that excuse for not talking to the press sounds plausible, under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) the secrecy requirement does not apply to witnesses before the grand jury. While they may not want to discuss what the witnesses said in the grand jury session, the secrecy rules are not a bar to discussing the testimony, even if prudence counsels silence.
Finally, while the investigation is focused on Fields' involvement with Pellicano, it may be that the grand jury sessions will turn up additional evidence that can be used in prosecuting Pellicano. The grand jury cannot be used as a discovery tool for a pending case, but if a continuing investigation produces admissible evidence in such a case, then courts generally allow its use at trial. Whether or not prosecutors can build a case against Fields, they may get a benefit out of the grand jury sessions for the Pellicano case. The Times articles hints at weaknesses in the government's case, so the Fields investigation may be a vehicle to help out on the pending prosecution. That case has already been postponed to February 2007, and Pellicano has been in jail since the indictment. At some point, the case has to move forward. (ph)