Tuesday, December 12, 2006
The Department of Justice's latest guidance on prosecuting corporations, the newly-christened McNulty Memo, tries to assuage some of the concerns of corporations and various interest groups about the frequency with which federal prosecutors can request waiver's of the privilege. This latest iteration of the Department's policy is now even more complex than its predecessors, the Thompson and Holder Memos, by creating categories of privileged material and work product. On this blog, we will discuss various issues related to this new approach, but it remains an open question whether Congress will intervene and set the policy through the legislation that Senator Arlen Specter will introduce in the new Congress in January. As discussed in an earlier post (here), this legislation would prevent federal prosecutors from seeking a privilege waiver in any circumstances, along with other prohibitions. These are the two approaches, one legislative and one an internal guideline, that raise a number of interesting questions we plan to discuss here. The first issue we will talk about is whether there should be some enforcement mechanism along with the restrictions on requesting waivers,and the related question of the proper remedy for a violation.
Peter Henning: One significant weakness with the McNulty Memo appears in its name -- it is only an internal policy statement with no means to enforce its provisions except what the Department chooses to provide. While the Office of Professional Responsibility could investigate a complaint, the McNulty Memo has a hortatory value but not much else if there is a violation of its restrictions on privilege requests. The U.S. Attorney's Manual is quite explicit in its first provision that it "provides only internal Department of Justice guidance. It is not intended to, does not, and may not be relied upon to create any rights, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law by any party in any matter civil or criminal. Nor are any limitations hereby placed on otherwise lawful litigative prerogatives of the Department of Justice." USAM 1-1.100. The McNulty Memo will take the place of the Thompson Memo in the Manual, and be subject to the same limitation on its enforceability, or even usefulness outside of an internal Department investigation.
The "Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act of 2006" that Senator Specter will introduce (I'm hopeful with "2007" at the end) in the next Congress similarly does not contain any enforcement mechanism or reference to what remedy might be available (or to whom) in case of a violation. One can argue that not including a remedial provision is a benefit because it creates maximum judicial discretion, but that can also lead to substantial inconsistency. More importantly, a crucial issue involved in the proposed legislation is identifying the goal Congress would hope to achieve if it enacts the bill. If the purpose is to eliminate what Congress views as prosecutorial misconduct, then providing a remedy against the prosecutor without directly interfering in the underlying investigation or prosecution would be a good approach. The focus of Senator Specter's bill is on the request for a waiver and the decision whether to institute charges, and not as much with providing that information. The bill acknowledges that a corporation can voluntarily waive its privilege and work product protection, so I think the focus is on the prosecutor and not simply protecting information.
I would be surprised if a federal prosecutor made a request that arguably violated the bill and was not immediately the subject of a protest to the U.S. Attorney, Main Justice, and the courts about the legal violation. I think it is unlikely that a company would provide privileged information and protected work product and then later come to the realization that the request violated the Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act. The question, then, is if the primary concern is prosecutorial misconduct, can a remedial provision be attached to the bill that would fulfill that purpose?
One area that has some similarity to this issue is Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)'s provision for pursuing violations of the grand jury secrecy requirement. Rule 6(e)(7) provides: "A knowing violation of Rule 6, or of guidelines jointly issued by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence pursuant to Rule 6, may be punished as a contempt of court." This provision concerns prosecutorial misconduct, and permits a direct punishment of the government attorney for a violation. Moreover, the provision requires proof of knowledge, and provides that a violation "may be punished." These limitations give the courts flexibility to find that a de minimis or technical violation does not merit contempt, while a serious transgression could even be punished with a fine or jail sentence. This strikes me as a workable provision under Senator Specter's legislation, and could be added quite easily as a single sentence amendment.
One possible objection is that such a provision only addresses the prosecutor's conduct but not the effect on the investigation. To address that issue, a provision similar to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g) could be added. That Rule provides, "A person aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure of property or by the deprivation of property may move for the property’s return." Similarly, language could be added so that a company aggrieved by a violation of the act could move for the return of documents and a restoration of the privilege and work product protection for any information it was compelled to turn over in violation of the law. If the case ever came to trial, a court could ensure that the government did not use privileged information, something every trial just is empowered to do already.
If the goal of the bill is to give corporations, and perhaps their employees, a means to block an investigation or have an indictment dismissed, then leaving judges the widest discretion may be the way to achieve that purpose. The discussion about the legislation has been focused on the need to protect the privilege, and I think there are some fairly simple procedural mechanisms to punish prosecutorial misconduct and restore privileged communications and work product to their prior state that can give the courts real guidance on how to proceed in cases that arise five and ten years down the line. Enacting a law prohibiting conduct without any direction on how it should be applied creates significant uncertainty that may result in inconsistent results. If the legislation does create (or restore) an important right, then it should have a remedy. (ph)
Ellen S. Podgor - Although I agree with many of the points made by my co-blogger, there are several aspects that we do part ways. So stay tuned to a forthcoming entry that will discuss another approach. It will specifically look at why it is important to provide judges with flexibility in fixing a remedy for a violation, why existing statutes of a similar nature mirror this approach, and why the focus of Senator Specter's bill is on the information, more specifically on protecting a privilege that is at the bedrock of our adversarial system. (esp)