California Supreme Court protects attorney-client privileged documents from inadvertent disclosure under Public Records Act

This morning, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited Opinion in Ardon v. City of Los Angeles, holding inadvertent disclosure of attorney-client privileged documents in response to a Public Records Act request does not waive the privilege.

Ardon involved inadvertent disclosure of attorney-client privileged documents by the City of Los Angeles.  The documents at issue were protected from disclosure during litigation between plaintiff and the City, but were subsequently disclosed inadvertently by the City in response to a request made under California’s Public Records Act. The Opinion holds the inadvertent disclosure was not a waiver of privilege under the language of the PRA or under general principles governing waiver of privilege.  The Opinion aligns California with other states, like New Jersey (O’Boyle v. Borough of Longport, et al, 94 A.3d 299 (NJ 2014)), that have issued opinions upholding the right of public entities to maintain confidential attorney-client relationships without fear that disclosure of privileged communications will be compelled under open records laws.

Because the case had significant public policy implications for all public entities and municipal lawyers in California and across the nation, IMLA filed an amicus brief in support of the City. IMLA’s brief was drafted by Kira Klatchko of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP and Irene Zurko of Best Best & Krieger LLP.