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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit today decides case re attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine

This case is out of Illinois and deals with the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine, as well as the scope of the collaterial-order doctrine. It is Sandra T.E., et al. v. South Berwyn School District 100 and Sidley Austin LLP, a 20-page opinion by Judge Sykes. The case was decided Feb. 25, 2009, the day after the oral argument, with a notation that an opinion would follow, as it does now, over one year later. Judge Sykes' opinion begins:

An elementary-school music teacher in the South Berwyn School District 100 was charged with sexually molesting numerous students over a period of several years during his tenure in the district. Some of the victims brought this civil lawsuit against the District and a school principal who allegedly knew about the abuse long before the charges were filed but did not take appropriate responsive action. Reacting to the criminal charges and the filing of the civil suit, the School Board hired attorneys from Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an internal investigation and provide legal advice to the Board. As part of this investigation, Sidley attorneys interviewed many current and some former school-district employees and third-party witnesses. These interviews were not recorded. Instead, the attorneys took handwritten notes and later drafted memoranda summarizing the interviews. Sidley delivered its findings and legal advice to the School Board in an oral report and a written executive summary, but has not represented the defendants in this litigation.

During discovery the plaintiffs issued a subpoena for the documents in Sidley’s possession relating to its District 100 investigation. Relying on the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine, Sidley declined to produce its notes and internal memoranda relating to the employee and witness interviews and other legal memoranda prepared in connection with the investigation. On the plaintiffs’ show-cause motion, the district court concluded that Sidley had been hired to provide investigative services, not legal services, and ordered the firm to produce the documents. Sidley appealed.

Immediately following oral argument, we issued an expedited order reversing the district court and holding that the law firm’s documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. This opinion explains the rationale behind that summary order and also addresses an intervening development regarding the scope of the collateral-order doctrine, which supplied our jurisdiction to immediately review the district court’s order.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 30, 2010 11:47 AM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions