• March 11, 2020

In this post, we follow up on an earlier Minnesota Litigator post about the attorney-client privilege in the context of criminal investigation of attorney wrong-doing.

This week, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its ruling in K.M. v. Burnsville Police Department, et al. in favor of the police and adverse to the lawyer.

The lawyer was alleged to have swindled a couple of clients. (The alleged scam: “She [allegedly] told [a client] that he had two options to avoid charges. He could donate $35,000 to the police union and become a confidential informant. Or he could make a larger donation—$50,000—without becoming an informant.” (Here at p. 4.) Then, she allegedly deposited the money into her own bank account. (Id.))

The police obtained a search warrant and seized the lawyer’s files for all of her clients, raising obvious concerns about the confidentiality of unrelated client matters.

Critically, the police put procedures in place so that the Dakota County Electronic Crimes Task Force would search the electronic data and only pass on materials related to the two clients.

The district court allowed for the police presentation of ex parte evidence (that is, not shared with the lawyer or her lawyers) and okayed the police procedure. The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the district court, cautioning:

Although we affirm the decision of the district court, we do so with a caveat. The district court should have ordered that copies of the seized client files be immediately returned to K.M. It is vital to any attorney that she have access to her files to fulfill her professional responsibilities. This includes not just advising her clients in ongoing matters, but also notifying clients that their open and closed files have been seized by law enforcement so that those clients can take timely steps to protect their rights.

The Court also pointed out that:

[T]here are other avenues by which the important issues regarding both search warrants may be litigated. K.M., the Doe intervenors, and amici have raised constitutional and privilege issues that were not squarely presented to, or fully litigated in, the district court. These issues include the breadth of the warrants, precisely who was authorized to search and seize, and when, how, and by whom client files were actually searched. Our decision today is without prejudice to those issues as they may be developed in the pending criminal case. Nor does our decision prejudice potential civil claims. Today we decide only a narrow issue under section 626.04.

Here at p. 14.