Bonus-Gate Reporter Gains Access to Senate Legal Bills

Bills for legal services are subject to disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law.  Levy v. Senate, — A.3d —-, 2011 WL 4625341 (Pa.Cmwlth.2011).  The identities of clients and general descriptions of legal services (e.g., memo, telephone call, research) do not implicate the attorney-client privilege and are not subject to redaction.  Specific descriptions of legal services that implicate confidential communications between the attorney and the client are subject to redaction.

Mark Levy, a reporter covering the “Bonus-Gate” scandal involving the improper use of government funds by members of the Senate, requested to see bills for legal services submitted by individual Senators to the Pennsylvania Senate for reimbursement.  The Senate argued that the attorney-client privilege protects client identities and the purpose or reasons why various attorneys were engaged and that release of the records would reveal confidential information.  The Commonwealth Court examined the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Gillard v. AIG Insurance Company, 15 A.3d 44 (2011), which held that the attorney-client privilege covers not only confidential client-to-attorney communications but also confidential attorney-to-client communications made for the purpose of obtaining or providing professional legal advice.  The Levy court appointed the Honorable James R. Kelley, Senior Judge, to sit as a special master to conduct an in-camera review of the unredacted legislative documents.  Judge Kelley determined that “[t]o the extent that the documents specify the issues or laws researched by the attorneys, specific services provided and the names of individuals with whom the attorneys communicated … such information has the potential to reveal the confidential communications shared by the attorney and the client, the motive of the client in seeking representation and litigation strategy, and is privileged.”  The Commonwealth Court, sitting en-banc, unanimously agreed with Judge Kelley’s conclusions regarding the scope of the attorney-client privilege as set forth above.

Disclaimer:  This blog is maintained by the members of Nauman Smith’s Media and Right-to-Know Law practice group.  The members of this practice group represent both: 1) media entities, individuals and corporations seeking access to public records, and 2) local municipalities seeking to comply with the law.  THIS BLOG IS NOT MEANT TO BE USED AS LEGAL ADVICE.  The purpose of this blog is to provide educational material for individuals interested in Pennsylvania’s open records law, commonly referred to as the “Right-to-Know Law” or “RTKL”.  The opinions expressed by the individual members of the practice group are solely their own, and do not reflect the opinions of Nauman, Smith, Shissler & Hall, LLP, or the practice group as a whole.

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