At a March 19, 2009 meeting of the Ethics Committee of the City-County Council where a new ethics code for City-County Councilors was discussed, Republican councilors on the committee, including Chairwoman Ginny Caine and Robert Lutz, incredibly are seeking a loophole for attorneys who serve on the council from disclosing clients they represent who are doing business with the city or county. Caine, Lutz and City Council counsel Bob Elrod take the untenable view that such disclosure would violate the attorney-client privilege.Caine, Lutz and Elrod are wrong. Attorney-client privilege refers to the requirement that COMMUNICATIONS between an attorney and his client be kept confidential, unless, of course, the client chooses to waive that privilege. The privilege does not apply to prevent an attorney from disclosing who he or she represents.
An on-line legal dictionary explains the attorney-client privilege and why it exists:
In the law of evidence, a client's privilege to refuse to disclose, and to prevent any other person from disclosing, confidential communications between the client and his or her attorney. Such privilege protects communications between attorney and client that are made for the purpose of furnishing or obtaining professional legal advice or assistance. That privilege that permits an attorney to refuse to testify as to communications from the client. It belongs to the client, not the attorney, and hence only the client may waive it. In federal courts, state law is applied with respect to such privilege.The attorney client privilege does not protect the existence of an attorney-client relationship or even how much the attorney has been paid by the client. See, for example: Wirtz v. Fowler, 372 F.2d 315 (5th Cir. 1966.) Again, the attorney-client privilege is about COMMUNICATIONS between an attorney and his client. It is not about who you represent or even how much you've been paid by that client.
The attorney-client privilege encourages clients to disclose to their attorneys all pertinent information in legal matters by protecting such disclosures from discovery at trial. The privileged information, held strictly between the attorney and the client, may remain private as long as a court does not force disclosure. The privilege does not apply to communications between an attorney and a client that are made in furtherance of a fraud or other crime. The responsibility for designating which information should remain confidential rests with the client. In its most common use, however, the attorney claims the privilege on behalf of the client in refusing to disclose to the court, or to any other party, requested information about the client's case.
Attorneys on the Indianapolis City-County Council need to be disclosing when they have clients, or their firms' clients, appearing before the council and recuse themselves from deliberations and voting on issues involving their clients. The attorney-client privilege is certainly not a valid basis to create a an enormous loophole in the ethics rules so that attorney councilors don't have to disclose when they have clients appearing before the council. Attorney councilors who think otherwise need to take a legal ethics refresher course.