N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:84A-20(1) enacted by the legislature as N.J. Evid. R. 26 indicates that it is largely declaratory of the common law. Thus, the statute expresses the general rule that communications between a lawyer and his client in the course of that relationship and in professional confidence, are privileged. However, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:84A-20(2) lists the exceptions to this general rule. The first such exception, N.J. Stat. Ann § 2A:84A-20(2)(a), provides that the privilege shall not extend to a communication in the course of legal service sought or obtained in aid of the commission of a crime or a fraud.
The trial court entered a consent order in a matrimonial matter. In that order, the court appointed a certified public accountant to examine and report on defendant's finances, and directed that the initial cost of such accounting service should be borne by defendant. When defendant failed to pay the accountant's initial bill of $ 375, the trial judge wrote a letter to defendant's attorney seeking defendant's address. The attorney responded by acknowledging that he knew defendant's address, but refusing to divulge it in order to ". . . observe the confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship." Thereupon, the trial judge ordered defendant's counsel to appear before him and ". . . disclose the residence and business address of defendant." The defendant appeals from that order.
Was defendant's request that his attorney not reveal his address covered by the attorney-client privilege?
On appeal, the court affirmed, opining that there was no statute or disciplinary rule justifying the attorney's refusal. The court found that defendant's request that his attorney not reveal his address was excepted from the attorney-client privilege rule by N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:84A-20(2)(a), because it was communication in the course of legal service sought to aid or commit fraud. The court reasoned that defendant directed his attorney not to reveal his address in an attempt to flout the court order. The court refused to legitimize the effort of defendant to have his attorney, an officer of the court, participate in undermining the authority of the court.