The Supreme Court agrees to hear an opinion from the Second District which applies attorney-client privilege protection to billing statements, notwithstanding Public Records Act disclosure requirements
The ACLU of Southern California made a request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Office of the Los Angeles County Counsel seeking law firm invoices for the defense of inmate law suits alleging jail violence. The County agreed to produce documents related to three resolved lawsuits, redacting attorney-client privilege and attorney work product information. It declined to produce billing statements for six pending lawsuits, asserting privilege.
On a writ of mandate to the superior court the ACLU argued the billing records were not wholly protected by the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine because of the CPRA. It contended only entries reflecting an attorney’s advice, mental impressions, or theories of a case were protected. The County responded all billing records were protected by the attorney-client privilege, and were subject to the CPRA’s catch-all exception for material subject to privilege under federal or state law.
The trial court concluded that the County had failed to show that the billing records were privileged communications exempt from disclosure. The court concluded the Legislature did not intend, in adopting Business and Professions Code §§ 6148 and 6149, that the information contained in attorney billing statements would be considered confidential.
The Court of Appeal disagreed, finding the CPRA exception for privileged material applied. (Government Code § 6254(k) ) The attorney-client privilege does not extend only to legal opinions or advice. A client’s communication to his or her attorney is privileged, but is unlikely to contain a legal opinion or advice.
The Supreme Court has held a confidential attorney-client communication protected even though it also included non-privileged material. The proper focus is not whether the communication contains an attorney’s opinion or advice, but whether an attorney-client relationship exists and whether the communication was confidentially transmitted in the course of that relationship.
Comment: This is yet another decision that rejects the argument that “mixed” attorney-client communications are subject to complete or partial disclosure.