Privileges in 2017–A Year in Review

The year 2017 produced several interesting privilege issues.  Some privilege-related subjects offer practical tips, others may highlight a new issue for you, while still others fall into the “I can’t believe that!” category.

The privilege highlights range from internal investigations to the Trump Administration to ethical violations.  I cannot cover all of them, but here is a summary of thought-provoking privilege topics that arose in 2017.  Hope these discussions prove helpful to you.


The Minnesota Supreme Court imposed a private reprimand for a lawyer who, after being fired, disclosed client communications to his adversary.   The Indiana Supreme Court expressed “outrage” and imposed a four-year disbarment to a prosecutor who surreptitiously listened to jailhouse conversations between criminal defendants and their lawyers.

And a California appellate court upheld a law firm’s disqualification after one of the firm’s lawyers did not return an adversary’s inadvertently disclosed privileged email and, instead, used it offensively before obtaining court permission to do so.


The Trump presidency did not disappoint in providing several privilege-related discussion points.  The issue of “executive privilege” arose when former FBI Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions (sorta) invoked executive privilege when he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Trump’s two personal lawyers, John Dowd and Ty Cobb, had lunch at BLT Steak in DC and openly discussed producing documents as part of Mueller’s Russia investigation—all while a NYT reporter sat at a nearby table listening to the entire conversation.  Privilege waiver? I discussed it here. More…