Sunday, April 19, 2009
The threat of indictment to a corporation is huge, and one need only look at what happened to Arthur Andersen LL.P to reach this conclusion. In the aftermath of Andersen, many corporations have entered into deferred and non-prosecution agreements with the government, paying huge fines but avoiding prosecution. With their "backs against the wall" the companies agree to many controversial terms, including in some cases the waiver of the attorney-client privilege. The net result to the government is not only money, but also evidence that can be used to proceed against individuals within the company.
But how does this scenario play out in the long run. The case of U.S. v. The Williams Companies provides an interesting glance at what can happen when the attorney-client privilege is violated by the company. Williams, an opinion issued this past week by the DC Court of Appeals has the individual asking for discovery in the criminal case, and wanting the government to produce the discovery they received from the company. The problem is that the company does not want the evidence to be produced to the defendant. So the court is left to rule on "a third-party appeal of a discovery order in a criminal case compelling the government to produce 'all materials disclosed' by the third party pursuant to its cooperation with federal investigators during a criminal investigation of the third party and others." The court remands the case to the district court to assess "which documents were material to the defense."
The moral of the story is - you may think that your back is against the wall to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement, but before you agree to waive the attorney-client privilege, be aware of the long-term ramifications of this decision.
(esp) (blogging from Chicago)