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TrumpBothSides

Contrary to some recent Commander-in-Chief tweets, reports of the death of the attorney-client privilege have been greatly exaggerated. Trump appears to believe that the attorney-client privilege is broad. It’s not. In fact, it runs more to the narrow side.

The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to encourage and promote full and frank consultation between a client and his or her legal advisor by removing the fear of compelled disclosure of such communications. Consolidation Coal Co. v. Bucyrus-Erie Co. 89 Ill. 2d 103, 117-18 (1982).

In addition to generations’ worth of case law interpreting the nature and scope of the privilege, many states, Illinois among them, have specific rules relating to the attorney-client privilege:

Privilege and Work Product. All matters that are privileged against disclosure on the trial, including privileged communications between a party or his agent and the attorney for the party, are privileged against disclosure through any discovery procedure. Material prepared by or for a party in preparation for trial is subject to discovery only if it does not contain or disclose the theories, mental impressions, or litigation plans of the party’s attorney. The court may apportion the cost involved in originally securing the discoverable material, including when appropriate a reasonable attorney’s fee, in such manner as is just.

Illinois Supreme Court Rule 201(b)(2) (emphasis added).

The connections between Trump, Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen and Essential Consultants LLC, the entity that Cohen created to do the deal with Stormy, bear a distinct resemblance to Abbott & Costello’s “Who’s On First” routine. But even if Cohen makes it past the crime-fraud exception to the attorney-client privilege (and apart from any ethical issues), he’ll have to deal with the terms “between a party” and “the attorney for the party.”

In order to be protected by the attorney-client privilege, the communication must be between a client and his or her lawyer in which legal advice is sought from the lawyer, the communication must relate to that purpose, and it must be made in confidence by the client, and even with those conditions met the privilege can be waived. Center Partners, Ltd. v. Growth Head GP, LLC, 981 N.E.2d 345, 355, 367 Ill. Dec. 20, 30, 2012 IL 113107, ¶ 30 (Ill. S. Ct. 2012). See also People v. Radojcic, 998 N.E.2d 1212, 1221, 376 Ill. Dec. 279, 288, 2013 IL 114197, ¶ 40 (Ill. S. Ct. 2013). Illinois law is clear that the duty to disclose is the rule, and the attorney-client privilege the exception. Consolidation Coal, 89 Ill.2d at 117-18.

So if a communication is made by counsel for one party to counsel for an adverse party, it’s not privileged. Or if a communication is between a client and his or her attorney and privileged, but one of them carbon copies the communication to someone outside that relationship, the privilege may be waived.

Sergeant Schultz

Like Sergeant Schultz, Trump claims to know nothing about any deal between Stormy Daniels and Cohen. If that’s so, then any communication between Cohen and Trump regarding Stormy’s hush money deal would not be privileged because no attorney-client relationship exists between Cohen and Trump as to that matter.

Cohen may argue that he had a “common interest” with Trump that preserved the attorney-client privilege. This would reflect a misunderstanding of the common interest doctrine.

Although sometimes incorrectly referred to as a privilege in itself, the common interest doctrine is not a privilege at all. Rather, it is an exception to the rule that a communication that was protected by the attorney-client privilege loses that privileged status if it is disclosed to a third person. Robinson v. Texas Auto. Dealers Ass’n, 214 F.R.D. 432, 443 (E.D.Tex.2003). The common interest doctrine extends the attorney-client privilege to communications that would otherwise have become non-confidential because they passed outside the attorney-client relationship, but only when the parties undertake a joint effort with respect to a common legal interest. U.S. v. Evans, 113 F.3d 1457, 1467 (7th Cir. 1997). Illinois cases reflect a strong policy in favor of discovery to ascertain the truth in legal disputes, Monier v. Chamberlain, 35 Ill. 2d 351, 359 (1966), so in Illinois the term “common” as used in “common interest doctrine” carries much more freight than it does outside the law: “[t]he key consideration of the [common interest doctrine] is that the nature of the interest be identical, not similar, and be legal, not merely commercial.” Duplan Corp. v. Deering Milliken, Inc., 397 F. Supp 1146, 1174 (D.S.C. 1974). A shared desire to succeed in an action does not create a “common interest.” In re Grand Jury Supboena Duces Tecum, 112 F. 3d 910, 922 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 521 U.S. 1105 (1997).

Trump’s blanket denial of any knowledge about the Stormy Daniels hush-up deal weakens, if it doesn’t absolutely destroy, any claim by Cohen of a common legal interest.

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Stormy

Every first-year law student goes through Contracts, and of course there’s a final exam at the end of the course. There may be a few multiple choice items, but ordinarily the test is geared to a few essay questions revolving around situations crafted by the contracts law professor to see whether the student has grasped the big ideas in the course, as well as other subsidiary contract law principles that the situation involves. It used to be called  issue spotting. At the same time, most law professors try to inject a little bit of humor into the essay by assigning to parties in the hypothetical the names of other law professors, or other spoof names. (Attorney I. Noah Loophole is visited by a prospective client, Helena Handbasket….”)

Stormy Daniels has now changed all that.

Contracts law final exams may never be the same after this case is done. It has everything in it. Was there a bargain made here? Cash for a promise? Was there a meeting of the minds? Could minds meet if one of them claims they had no knowledge of the agreement? What happens when one party doesn’t sign the contract, but the other party still accepts money or other consideration? What if the money didn’t really come from the party who seeks (or supposedly seeks) to bind the other? Who were the real parties? Is the contract void because it violates other law (e.g., federal election law)?

The Contracts 101 Cup Runneth Over. And as they say in the late night infomercials: “But that’s not all!!!” Just like the old Certs breath mint ad campaign, Stormy’s case is two, two, two tests in one. All sorts of legal ethics questions loom up from the shadows here. Who was (or is) Michael Cohen representing when he put the NDA together, if Trump, a/k/a “David Dension” (or some such fake name), claims to know nothing about it. That’s a whole other line of inquiry, best left for another day.

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invasion+of+privacy

Facebook’s cavalier attitude towards its users’ privacy interests, and its oceanically broad view of what constitutes a user’s “consent” will come back to bite Zuckerberg in the tuchus.

Meanwhile, the lesson for all users of free services on the net, whether Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or whatever, is fairly simple:

If the service is free, then YOU are the product being sold.

 

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energy expense nat gas $$$

State laws and regulations generally specify the time periods for which public utilities must keep records, and those periods vary for different types of records. For example, a public utility may be required to maintain records of meter tests for six or more years, while customer billing records may be subject to retention periods of only a year or two.

Similarly, these regulations may limit the time period for which a public utility may recover from its customer if the utility learns that it has provided service to the customer for which it hasn’t billed. This permitted backbill period may be as short as one year in the  case of residential customers, and perhaps longer in the case of nonresidential customers.

These time periods vary from state to state and must be confirmed in any particular case. But all of these time periods can have important consequences for customers if they suspect, or discover, that they’ve been overcharged.

For example, assume Customer Industries opened its factory in 2010, and in 2018 it learns that it has been overcharged for a particular cost component of its bill since the account was opened. Naturally, it would like to recover the whole amount of the overcharge. But it may find itself stymied because it doesn’t keep copies of its own utility bills for more than a year or so.

Assume further that the utility is required to keep customer bills for only two years. If the utility recognizes that it has overcharged Customer Industries and is willing to issue a refund, it may limit its refund to the previous two years, even though the overcharge stretches back for eight years. The utility may claim that Customer Industries can’t prove overcharges for any period prior to that. Will they win on that? A definite “maybe.” At the very least, Customer Industries will have a steep evidentiary climb in order to make its case.

The customer would also have to check applicable regulations to see if there’s a distinction between errors that appear on the face of the bill (e.g., an error in addition or multiplication), and errors that are “latent” and can only be determined by analyzing the cost components on the bill.

In either case, Customer Industries would be in a much stronger position if it had simply kept its bills, or copies of them, because then it would have an actual record of what the overcharge was.

Recall that state regulations may limit the periods for which a utility can backbill a customer. But that does not necessarily limit the period for which the customer can claim a refund from the utility — provided that it has evidence. And that evidence consists of utility bills.

Given that you can buy a scanner at any office supply store for less than $200, there’s really no excuse for not keeping copies of utility bills. They could turn out to be worth a lot more than you think.

 

 

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It’s been a busy day for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on separating church and state is long and, in many cases, self-contradictory and even incoherent. But despite all that fog, there are a few solid ideas that emerge.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of a Colorado baker who refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple’s wedding reception, claiming that to do so violated his constitutional right to religious liberty. Masterpiece v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The actual decision is probably a year away, but it will be interesting to hear what Gorsuch has to say.

As some ancient sage said, predictions are always dangerous, especially when they involve the future. But here goes. My prediction is that the case will go against the baker.

Were I to walk into a kosher deli and order a cheeseburger, the deli owner would almost certainly not serve me because they serve only food that complies with their religious rules.

But there’s a world of difference between not serving someone because the dish they’re asking for is against your religious principles (and therefore not even on the menu), and not serving someone a dish that is on the menu because that person’s existence or nature is against your religious principles. To call that an exercise of your own “religious liberty” is Orwellian. If that’s religious liberty, then it’s a very short step for a restaurant run by neo-Nazi skinheads (assuming one existed, and, if it did, it could stay in business for more than a week) could refuse to serve anyone who doesn’t meet their definition of Aryan.

Today as well, in the Trinity Lutheran case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds available to nonprofits under a state program could not be denied to a school run by a church. Though the commentariat sees this as shattering the separation between church and state, I don’t. In 1971, the Court decided Lemon v. Kurtzman, which set forth a 3-point test for such statutes: there must a secular purpose behind the statute; the statute’s primary effect must be one that neither promotes nor inhibits religion; and the statute must not foster “excessive government entanglement with religion.” Trinity Lutheran involved public funds used to re-pave playgrounds with rubberized material that’s easier on the knees than asphalt or cement. Before someone sounds alarm bells about Trinity Lutheran, they should first explain why it does not fit fairly within the Lemon v Kurtzman criteria.

 

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth B. Ginsburg

As Mark Stern at Slate writes, “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has decided to take a stand against a major party’s presidential candidate in a way that she—and arguably no prior justice—has ever done before.”

Apart from any principle as to what sitting judges should or should not say or do, the reason one doesn’t wrestle with a pig is that you get really dirty and, besides, the pig likes it.

Then again, anyone fortunate enough to reach her age and still be working a full-time job arguably has earned certain privileges, among them the right to make those comments.

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Oscar "Blade Runner" Pistorius

Oscar “Blade Runner” Pistorius

A South African court is about to hear testimony from the last witness in the sentencing phase of the murder trial of “Blade Runner” Oscar Pistorius, the athlete who has used leg prostheses in order to compete as a runner. He was convicted about two years ago for one category of homicide, but the trial verdict was overruled and he was found guilty of murder. His sentencing on this more serious charge is pending.

The case has been an international sensation not only because of Pistorius unique position in the athletic world, but also because the victim, his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was a beautiful and celebrated fashion model. The case could have been tailor-made for the tabloids and will undoubtedly give rise to a few docu-dramas in the near-term. From a legal perspective the case presents a number of interesting issues completely apart from any criminal laws and evidentiary rules specific to South Africa.

Briefly, Pistorius claims that he believed his apartment had been broken into by an intruder who, he allegedly believed, was hiding in the bathroom. Sleeping with a gun under your pillow is apparently commonplace in South Africa, but put that to one side. He claims that he went down the hall from his bedroom, and before he fired through the door at the as-yet-unseen intruder, he yelled out, allegedly at the top of his voice, to Reeva Steenkamp to get out and to call the police. Then Pistorius fired four shots from his 9 mm handgun through the door.

When he opened the door, Reeva’s bullet-torn body was on the floor of the bathroom.

Pistorius’ story of what happened that night does not make sense. First, Pistorius could only have suspected that the alleged intruder was in the bathroom, and he claims he believed that Reeva was still in bed. But he also claims that he was yelling at the top of his voice. He’s a very good runner, so he must have a rather strong set of lungs, and if someone like that tries to shout I’m sure he can do it rather loudly. He says Reeva never responded. Why not? When someone yells at the top of his voice for you, “What?” or “I’m in here,” or something of that sort is a typical response. When he pulled his gun out from beneath his pillow, why didn’t he notice that Reeva was not on the other side of the bed? Even in the dark (or relative dark), that’s not that hard. And if his adrenaline was going strong at the thought of an intruder, wouldn’t he at least check to make sure she was safe, or at least make sure where she was?

Why didn’t he even shout out “Who’s in there?” since he hadn’t actually seen the intruder before he started shooting? Why did he fire four shots, instead of one?

Then things get even weirder. Four witnesses at the trial, neighbors of Pistorius in the apartment building, all testified that they distinctly heard a woman’s voice, and each of them testified not only that this woman’s voice was “screaming hysterically,” but also that it preceded the firing of the gunshots. A key to Pistorius’ defense is that the screams were his after he realized what he’d done.

Not credible. To defend himself, Pistorius had to claim that when he’s stressed, his voice goes from that of the manly man he is most of the time, to that of a woman.

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