December 9, 2006
Response on Attorney-Client Privilege
Senator Specter's bill on attorney-client privilege is certainly receiving some commentary on this blog - here and here. And although my co-blogger and I agree on most items, this topic is one that I feel compelled to respond to his comments here.
1. This bill will survive - I disagree that this bill will be lost in oblivion (although my co-blogger does not expressly state this and this is my interpretation of the commentary that states that the session is ending and Specter will no longer be chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee). The coalition backing this bill is like none other seen before. It crosses both political and ideological boundaries. It includes the ABA, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL), Edwin Meese, Richard Thornburgh, some associated with the CATO Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (see here and here) as well as others. (some citations from Alan Childress' Legal Profession Blog here) The bottom line is that Sen. Specter will be proceeding ahead on this one in the next session. Why? Because the DOJ has done nothing to correct this situation and the political change in legislature is not likely to influence the strong support that this bill will receive.
2. What's the procedure? Mr co-blogger questions the lack of guidance offered by the bill on what a court should do if there is a question of a violation. Yes, what if a prosecutor decides to violate this law by improperly requesting attorney-client privileged material? It is true that a remedy is not included here, but it is also good that none is stated. It would be a shame to stifle the judiciary in finding an appropriate remedy to fit the particular circumstances. Obviously if the circumstances warrant dismissal then that is what should occur, and the government may be seeking review in a higher tribunal. But often, such an extreme remedy would not be necessary and the court needs to have the flexibility to either exclude evidence or preclude its use in further proceeding. Is this not done in cases of a violation of immunity, so why can't it be done here (see the Hubbell case).
3. What's the standard? Clearly if there is an alleged violation, then the government has the burden to show otherwise. Does this need to be stated in the legislation? No, it usually isn't in federal legislation of this nature, and is certainly presumed in light of the fact that the legislation calls for prosecutors not to be asking for the attorney-client privilege waivers.
4. What's the remedy? See # 2 above. And more importantly, if prosecutors follow the law then a remedy won't be needed.
5. Will this legislation encourage corporations to act unscrupulously? Absolutely not. The scenario presented by my co-blogger is one of obstruction of justice. This is not a pre-arranged contractual relationship that is being voided by the government through its asking of a waiver of an attorney-client privilege. Just like individuals have a right to assert a 5th Amendment privilege - a corporate executive instructing a lower level employee that they have to assert the privilege raises issues of undue influence that may trigger the obstruction statutes. It is also important to mention that nothing in the statute precludes prosecutors from securing needed information by going to a judge and presenting evidence of the existence of a crime or fraud. The crime-fraud exception is not eradicated by this statute.
6. Could there be a constitutional problem? This same issue was raised pre-the-McDade Amendment by prosecutors who argued that the judiciary could not usurp the legislative role. Congress stepped in with legislation to preclude prosecutors from acting unethically in court. And the legislation passed and remains valid today. It is no different here. Prosecutor's via this proposed legislation are being given a rule as to what will be allowed in their investigation of criminal matters. This is clearly within the legislative function.
This bill is clearly one that aims toward returning our system to one that honors, as opposed to ignores, the attorney-client privilege. It is unfortunate that DOJ failed to get its act together timely to rewrite the Thompson Memo so that it omits this language. And perhaps realizing that the Specter bill is hanging over its head, such a move will now be forthcoming. But if forced to proceed with this legislation because of DOJ inaction, it is important for this legislation to permit judges to be judges and find appropriate remedies to fit the situation. A one-size-fits-all remedy in a statute will preclude the judiciary from tailoring the remedy to fit the particular unethical circumstances of the rogue prosecutor.
(esp)(w/disclosure that she serves on the board of directors of the NACDL).
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