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Law School Case Brief

Zimmerman v. Superior Court - 220 Cal. App. 4th 389, 163 Cal. Rptr. 3d 135 (2013)

Rule:

The fundamental purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to encourage full and open communication between client and attorney. This rationale acquires particular magnitude in the criminal context: As a practical matter, if the client knows that damaging information could more readily be obtained from the attorney following disclosure than from himself in the absence of disclosure, the client would be reluctant to confide in his lawyer and it would be difficult to obtain fully informed legal advice. Thus, if an accused is to derive the full benefits of his right to counsel, he must have the assurance of confidentiality and privacy of communication with his attorney.

Facts:

Petitioner, a client's former attorney, was held in contempt based on her failure to answer certain questions regarding the circumstances under which she came into possession of specific evidence relevant to the prosecution's case against her former client. She sought review, contending that because the evidence was delivered to her in some way by the client's agent or agents, the circumstances of the delivery, as well as her observations regarding the delivery, were protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Issue:

Was the petitioner attorney protected by attorney-client privilege when she refused to answer questions regarding the circumstances under which she came into possession of specific evidence relevant to the prosecution's case against her former client?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The court denied the petition and held that the attorney-client privilege could protect the information coming to an attorney from the client's agent as long as the agent was acting within the scope and authority of his agency. However, the party claiming the existence of agency had the burden to prove the existence and scope of the agency with actual facts. The attorney did not satisfy her burden because she offered almost no evidence that would allow the trial court to determine the existence of agency. Without the existence of agency, the attorney's claim of privilege necessarily failed, and the trial court's order for her to answer the subject questions was lawful and proper.

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