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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Eric Friedman
(212) 382-6754
Kathryn Inman
212-382-6656

CITY BAR SUPPORTS DISCLOSURE OF CLIENTS BY ATTORNEY-LEGISLATORS IN NEW YORK

Client Disclosure, with Appropriate Safeguards, Needed to Protect Public Interest, Increase Transparency

New York , February 3, 2010 – Attorney-legislators in New York should be held to the same rigorous disclosure requirements as other legislators, with appropriate safeguards for privileged information and client confidentiality, according to a report released by the New York City Bar Association. The report, from the Association’s Committees on State Affairs, Government Ethics and Professional Responsibility, concludes that, in most situations, there is no legal or ethical basis for shielding client identity, fee arrangements and the nature of the work done by attorney-legislators from the necessary sunlight of public scrutiny.  

The report states that “[t]he gravity of recent breaches of public trust in New York State and the failure of the existing ethics structure necessitate a simple, transparent system of disclosure that applies to all officials with private sources of income, even income from law practices.” Nearly one-fifth of elected officials in the state legislature are also attorneys.

The City Bar proposes that legislators disclose the names of their clients, the fees paid to them, and the nature of their work for the client, with clients notified of this in writing so that they can provide consent. This would not violate attorney-client privilege, the City Bar believes, as it has long been defined as “a confidential communication made between an attorney or his employee and the client in the course of professional employment.” Courts have consistently held that client identity and fee arrangements are not subject to privilege as they do not reveal substance of communication.

However, where the mere fact of representation creates attorney-client privilege, an exception to disclosure should be made. The City Bar also proposed that, in order to be consistent with ethical rules, an exception should be made in those limited situations where disclosure of client identity would be detrimental or embarrassing to the client, and that client consent to disclosure should be obtained. An independent commission should be created to determine when such information should not be disclosed, as is the case in states like California and Washington.

The City Bar’s report can be viewed online here: http://bit.ly/bWfiJB

About the Association

The New York City Bar Association (www.nycbar.org) was founded in 1870, and since then has been dedicated to maintaining the high ethical standards of the profession, promoting reform of the law, and providing service to the profession and the public. The Association continues to work for political, legal and social reform, while implementing innovative means to help the disadvantaged. Protecting the public’s welfare remains one of the Association’s highest priorities.