Sweeping Privilege Loss—Baylor Must Produce Documents From Sexual-Assault Investigation Reply

In a significant ruling that may exacerbate the continuing fallout from Baylor University’s sexual-assault scandal—and provide lessons for those conducting internal investigations—the USDC WDTX rejected Baylor’s “unsupported and unconvincing” privilege argument and ordered it to produce “all materials, communications, and information” provided to its investigating law firm.

The court held that Baylor’s intentional release of the law firm’s factual findings and recommendations necessarily disclosed attorney–client communications and constituted privilege waiver.  Doe v. Baylor Univ., No. 16–CV–173–RP (W.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2017).  You may read the opinion here.

The Huddle

In an earlier post titled Baylor Univ. in Major Battle over Law Firm’s Investigation Documents, I set the stage for the Title IX plaintiffs’ motion to compel Baylor to produce documents provided to Pepper Hamilton, which it retained to conduct an “independent and external review of Baylor University’s institutional responses to Title IX and related compliance issues.” More…

Robert Cray, Coldplay, and Privilege Waiver

Think privilege law is boring?  Not when SDFLA Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman writes the privilege opinion.  In Reyes v. Collins & 74th, Inc., 2017 WL 2833450 (SD Fla. June 30, 2017), Judge Goodman incorporated lyrics from Coldplay and Blues singer-songwriter Robert Cray in finding that a company’s advice-of-counsel defense waived the privilege and ordering its lawyer’s deposition.  You may read the opinion here.

Consequences of a Strategic Decision

In this FLSA action for failure to pay overtime wages, the defendant company made the “strategic choice” to assert as a good-faith defense that it paid the plaintiff according to the legal advice rendered by its lawyer, Leslie Langbein.

But when plaintiff’s counsel asked the corporate representative to reveal that advice, the defense attorney—also Langbein—objected on privilege grounds.  You may read the deposition transcription, available here, to see the questions to which the lawyer objected.

The plaintiff then moved to compel answers from the corporate rep, but also to take Langbein’s deposition.  Judge Goodman found that Blues guitarist and singer Robert Cray best framed the company’s predicament in his song Consequences: “there’s consequences for what we do, consequences for me and you.”  It’s good to see the lyrics in writing, but even better to see Cray performing Consequences live—

The first consequence of the company’s advice-of-counsel defense was a privilege-wavier finding.  In short, the company cannot use the privilege as a sword—asserting the defense—and as a shield—preventing plaintiff from inquiring into that defense.

Order

Another consequence of the company’s advice-of-counsel defense was that the court ordered that Langbein—the trial attorney who also provided the at-issue legal advice—sit for a deposition.  Judge Goodman also permitted the plaintiff to obtain “any letters, memoranda or notes, which Ms. Langbein provided to her clients about complying with the FLSA.”

Privilege Waiver Escape?

Judge Goodman offered the company an escape, and cited Coldplay’s lyrics from The Escapist to explain: “And in the end / we lie awake / And we dream / We’ll make an escape.” Listen to the entire song as you consider the judge’s escape proposal—

The company may escape its lawyer’s deposition and production of her legal-advice information by removing its advice-of-counsel defense.  The company will also have to agree that the statute-of-limitations is three years and that the plaintiff would be entitled to double damages if he prevails at trial.

So, the choice is to suffer Consequences or become The Escapist. See, privilege law can be fun.

Meeting Client in a Coffee Shop? Be Wary of Privilege Waiver

Lawyers are increasingly meeting individual clients and corporate-client employees in restaurants, coffee shops, and bars.  And this phenomenon is not limited to solo practitioners who use the local Starbucks as an office.  Firm-based lawyers more often interview a client’s employee or consultant over lunch rather than in their offices.  And in-house lawyers discuss confidential information with corporate employees in the company café.

A key component to the corporate attorney–client privilege is that lawyer–client conversations occur in a confidential setting.  In a recent Oregon case, a lawyer escaped privilege waiver for a meeting held in a restaurant, but only after having to prove that the tables around him were empty and that no one overhead the conversation.  While this was a privilege win, it should give lawyers pause about their client-meeting locations.  MacFarlane v. Fivespice, LLC, 2017 WL 1758052 (D. Ore. May 4, 2017).  You may read this decision here.

Restaurant Conversation

A former server at Café Murrayhill in Beaverton, Oregon filed a retaliation suit against the café.  The café’s lawyer met with the executive chef—at the restaurant.  Seems reasonable enough, but the meeting occurred in a restaurant booth and not in a private meeting room. More…