RULE 502. LAWYER-CLIENT PRIVILEGE
(a) Definitions. As used in this rule:
(1) "Client" means a person, including a public officer, corporation, association, or other organization or entity, either public or private, who is rendered professional legal services by a lawyer, or who consults a lawyer with a view to obtaining professional legal services from the lawyer.
(2) "Representative of the client" means:(A) a person who has authority to obtain professional legal services, or to act on advice thereby rendered, on behalf of the client, or(B) a person who is specifically authorized to provide the client's lawyer with, or receive from the lawyer, information relating to the legal services being rendered and that was acquired during the course of, or as a result of, such person's relationship with the client as principal, employee, officer or director, and is provided to, or received from, the lawyer for the purpose of obtaining for the client legal advice or other legal services of the lawyer.
(3) "Lawyer" means a person authorized, or reasonably believed by the client to be authorized, to engage in the practice of law in any state or nation.
(4) "Representative of the lawyer" means a person employed by the lawyer to assist the lawyer in rendering professional legal services.
(5) A communication is "confidential" if not intended to be disclosed to third persons other than those to whom disclosure is made in furtherance of the rendition of professional legal services to the client or those reasonably necessary for the transmission of the communication.
(b) General Rule of Privilege. A client has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing a confidential communication made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services to the client, if the communication was made:
(1) between the client or a representative of the client and the client's lawyer or a representative of the lawyer,
(2) between the lawyer and a representative of the lawyer,
(3) by the client or a representative of the client or the client's lawyer or a representative of the lawyer to a lawyer or a representative of a lawyer representing another party in a pending action and concerning a matter of common interest therein,
(4) between representatives of the client or between the client and a representative of the client, or
(5) among lawyers and their representatives representing the same client.
(c) Who May Claim the Privilege. The privilege may be claimed by the client, the client's guardian or conservator, the personal representative of a deceased client, or the successor, trustee, or similar representative of a corporation, association, or other organization, whether or not in existence. The person who was the lawyer or the lawyer's representative at the time of the communication is presumed to have authority to claim the privilege but only on behalf of the client.
(d) Exceptions. There is no privilege under this rule:
(1) Furtherance of Crime or Fraud. If the services of the lawyer were sought or obtained to enable or aid anyone to commit or plan to commit what the client knew or reasonably should have known to be a crime or fraud.
(2) Claimants Through Same Deceased Client. As to a communication relevant to an issue between parties who claim through the same deceased client, regardless of whether the claims are by testate or intestate succession or by transaction inter vivos.
(3) Breach of Duty by a Lawyer or Client. As to a communication relevant to an issue of breach of duty by a lawyer to the client or by a client to the lawyer.
(4) Document Attested by a Lawyer. As to a communication relevant to an issue concerning an attested document to which the lawyer is an attesting witness.
(5) Joint Clients. As to a communication relevant to a matter of common interest between or among two or more clients if the communication was made by any of them to a lawyer retained or consulted in common, when offered in an action between or among any of the clients.
(6) Public Officer or Agency. As to a communication between a public officer or agency and its lawyers unless the communication concerns a pending investigation, claim, or action and the court determines that disclosure will seriously impair the ability of the public officer or agency to process the claim or conduct a pending investigation, litigation, or proceeding in the public interest.
Rule 502 was amended, effective March 1, 2001. The amendment to subdivision (a)(2) expands the definition of who constitutes a "representative of the client." The rule is no longer limited to the "control group," i.e. people who have authority to obtain professional legal services, or to act on the advice rendered on behalf of the client. See Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981).
If the benefits this rule of privilege offers to the judicial system--that is, frank and open disclosure of facts by a client--are to be realized, then a client needs to be assured that confidential communications made to those necessarily involved in the performance of legal services will not be disclosed. Subdivision (a)(4) achieves this by including, as privileged communications, those made to a lawyer's representative. As used in this rule, the term "employed" is not limited to those employed for compensation.
The general rule of privilege stated in subdivision (b) is intended to encompass all communications necessarily made in the performance of legal services, not just those made between a client and his attorney.
Subdivision (c) states, generally, that this privilege may be claimed by the client or representative of the client and that a lawyer and representative of the lawyer are presumed to have authority to claim the privilege.
As to the exception stated in subdivision (d)(1), it has been observed that
"Since the policy of the privilege is that of promoting the administration of justice, it would be a perversion of the privilege to extend it to the client who seeks advice to aid him in carrying out an illegal or fraudulent scheme." McCormick on Evidence § 95 at 199 (2d ed. 1972).
The privilege afforded by this rule is the client's; all other claimants have only derivative authority to assert the privilege. Thus, subdivision (d)(2) provides that, in an action to determine which party shall take through a deceased client, the action is not adverse to the deceased client and the justification for allowing the privilege is dissolved. In such cases, "The interest of the estate as well as the interest of the deceased client demand that the truth be determined." In re Graf's Estate, 119 N.W.2d 478 (N.D. 1963).
In cases of dispute between attorney and client, subdivision (d)(3) provides that the privilege does not apply. As to these parties, the communication could not have been intended to be confidential.Subdivision (d)(4) states that, as an attesting witness, an attorney may testify relevant to issues concerning the attested document, for as to these matters the attorney is not acting in his professional capacity. Consider also, in this regard, the "scrivener" exception to the privilege. O'Neill v. Murray, 6 Dak. 107, 50 N.W. 619 (1888).
It cannot be said that communications made between or among joint clients were intended to be confidential as to those clients. Subdivision (d)(5) removes the privilege in these instances.Subdivision (d)(6) provides, in the usual instance, that communications between a public agency and its attorneys are not privileged. Exception is made for those instances in which the court determines that disclosure will "seriously impair" the listed functions of the public agency.
SOURCES: Joint Procedure Committee Minutes: September 23-24, 1999, pages 6-7; January 29, 1976, pages 2, 3. Unif. R. Evid. 502 (1974).
SUPERSEDED: N.D.C.C. § 31-01-06(1).
CROSS REFERENCE: N.D.R. Prof. Conduct 1.6.