Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Fifth Circuit Denies Rehearing En Banc in Controversial Client Identity Privilege Case (12/23/20)

I have previously reported on the Fifth Circuit’s rejection of the client-identity privilege (a subset of the attorney-client privilege) in Fifth Circuit Rejects Attorney-Client Identity Privilege for Law Firm Documents (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 4/26/20), here.   See Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm P.L.L.C. v. United States, 957 F.3d 505 (5th Cir. 2020), here.

On December 4, 2020, the Fifth Circuit denied rehearing en banc.  The vote was 9 to 8.  Six of the judges dissenting to denial of rehearing en banc filed a dissenting opinion.  The denial and dissenting opinion are here.    

The panel opinion was controversial.  Amicus briefs on petition rehearing en banc were filed by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, here, and by the American College of Tax Counsel, here.  

I am not sure what the dissenting opinion really adds to the panel decision other than suggesting a possible interpretation of Fifth Circuit law unaffected by the original panel opinion.  Perhaps it will offer some basis for continuing the fight on remand and in other cases.  Perhaps not.  

An excerpt from the dissenting opinion (footnote omitted):

The amici raised important concerns about how to interpret the opinion in this case. However, the opinion assures us, in its citations to Jones and Reyes-Requena II, that it does not diverge from our settled precedent. Taylor Lohmeyer Law Firm P.L.L.C. v. United States, 957 F.3d 505, 510–11 (5th Cir. 2020). I take the opinion at its word. Whenever disclosing a client’s identity would reveal the confidential purpose for which the client consulted the attorney, attorney-client privilege applies. This protection may obtain even if the government does not know the specific, substantive legal advice that was provided to the client.

In the district court, the enforcement order is currently stayed and the case has been administratively closed to facilitate our review of the enforcement order. Once our mandate issues, it may be that the case is reopened and the stay lifted. If so, the May 15, 2019 enforcement order provides that the Lohmeyer law firm will have the opportunity to produce a privilege log, asserting privilege on particular responsive documents. If the law firm does so, the district court may choose then to conduct an in camera review of those documents. I am confident that any such review will be guided by the following: “[i]f the disclosure of the client’s identity will also reveal the confidential purpose for which he consulted an attorney, we protect both the confidential communication and the client’s identity as privileged.” Lohmeyer, 957 F.3d at 511 (quoting Reyes-Requena II, 926 F.2d at 1431).

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