The Exceptions to Attorney-Client Privilege

Man: The following segment is sponsored by Martin, Harding, and Mazzotti.

Melissa: The FBI recently raided the law office of Michael Cohen, personal attorney to President Trump, and seized countless documents and computer hard drives. It is unclear what exactly the Department of Justice is looking for, but federal prosecutors and attorneys for Cohen were heard in court regarding what, if any, of these documents would be protected under attorney-client privilege. Here to help examine this issue is managing partner Paul Harding from the law firm of Martin, Harding, and Mazzotti. Paul, welcome.

Paul: Thank you.

Melissa: Nice to see you here. So, what exactly is the purpose of attorney-client privilege, and what type of information is protected?

Paul: Yeah, so, it is one of those basic axioms in our justice system that when you have a conversation with your attorney, you expect that that conversation is going to be protected, that it wouldn’t be shared with the opposing side, it wouldn’t be shared with anyone, and, as a general proposition, that is true.

Melissa: So, are there exceptions to attorney-client privilege?

Paul: Well, that’s what we’ve been hearing about the last several days, right? We hear more about this on the news than I think I’ve heard my entire career. So, you hire me to do a real estate transaction, but along the way, you send me an e-mail, and it talks about maybe a criminal case that you’re involved in. At that point, that is not protected. So, what I’m hired for is the protection. As you say other things, that’s not protected. Also, the privilege is held by the client, so as soon as you tell a third party, not me, not you, it now becomes not privileged information. But, the big one we’re hearing about, is if you have the crime/fraud exception. You can tell your attorney about your past misdeeds, but if you’re gonna talk to him about a current crime being convicted, or the potential, or a future crime, generally, you’ll lose that protection.

Melissa: So, the more information I’ve divulged, that is not covered.

Paul: Right.

Melissa: Okay. Now, what was the purpose of the hearing between prosecutors and Cohen’s attorneys this week?

Paul: So, they’re trying to figure out what the federal prosecutors have, and so the judge was super careful. She really kind of played it like, “Listen, guys, prosecution, you’re not gonna look at this, and Trump team, you’re not gonna look at this. We’ve gotta look at this at a really slower pace. We’re not giving you an answer today, so this thing is gonna continue on.” And whether or not, and what’s protected, is really gonna be the key as to what documents they have to move forward on, if any, against the Trump administration.

Melissa: It’ll definitely be interesting…

Paul: It will.

Melissa: …to see how all of this plays out. Paul, thank you so much for being here.

Paul: Thank you.

Melissa: We really appreciate it.