Furious Privilege

A great summary of the most recent claim of executive privilege in the ongoing Fast & Furious disgrace from Grim’s Hall,  a favorite blog read of mine:

“Here’s the process for withholding privileged documents if you’re a reasonably principled lawyer.  You put together the entire universe of documents that appear to be responsive to the document request.  Then you examine every single document to determine whether it falls within an established privilege, usually “work product” or “attorney-client.”  The first cut of “work product” documents would include anything that could possibly be said to quote or reflect advice that the client received from counsel.  For the “attorney-client” category, the first cut would include anything from the attorney to the client or vice versa, including anything cc’ed to the law firm.

If only you got to stop there, document production would be a breeze.  The next step is harder.  In the case of work product, for instance, often the main document is OK, but a line or two might say, “As you know, counsel advised us that ______,” and the blank would need to be redacted.  In the case of attorney-client privilege, you’re not going to get away with withholding everything that was circulated past the lawyers.  If the cc list included anyone who wasn’t a client, for instance, it goes back in the pile to be produced, because the privilege requires a showing that the advice was given and held in confidence.  Even if the cc list is made up exclusively of lawyers and clients, it still has to involve the quest for or rendition of legal advice.  You can’t shield ordinary business documents from production by slapping a “lawyer cc” on them, though that gambit is often tried.

Even when you finish this more rigorous secondary process, you don’t simply get to keep the documents you think are privileged and tell the other side to pound sand.  You have to produce a privilege log, a little chart that identifies each document, including its date, its recipients, and enough about its general nature to explain why you claim a privilege attaches to it.  This is a critical stage, because the judge and any competent lawyers in the case can take one look at your privilege log and see whether you’re serious.  The absence of a privilege log, or the absence of detail, is a big red flag that screams “My idea of screening for privileged documents to sort everything into two piles:  the documents that will embarrass me and the documents that won’t.”  It’s a more common approach than you might think.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is making a very reasonable demand today for a privilege log of the “Fast and Furious” documents withheld by the White House on the ground of executive privilege.  He’s also on solid ground…”

Read the rest of this post here.


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