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Peterson v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Huntington Division

June 20, 2019




         Pending before the Court is a Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence by a Person in Federal Custody Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 and an Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs. (ECF Nos. 670, 671). Movant's Application is DENIED, as there is no filing fee with a motion under § 2255.

         In his motion, Movant alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel from his lawyer, Glen D. Conway. Movant claims that Mr. Conway provided incorrect advice regarding Movant's qualification as a career offender, causing Movant to enter into a plea agreement. (ECF No. 671). Movant further alleges that Mr. Conway failed to object to certain sentence enhancements and failed to question the relevant conduct attributed to Movant, despite Movant's request that counsel do so. (Id. at 5-8).

         In view of the allegations contained in the § 2255 motion, the undersigned has considered whether to order Mr. Conway to respond to the factual allegations in the motion notwithstanding the likelihood that a response will lead to the disclosure of confidential client communications. In considering the need for counsel's response, the Court has taken into account the attorney's professional and ethical responsibilities, as well as the obligation of the Court to ensure a fair, orderly, and efficient judicial proceeding. Criminal defense counsel has a basic duty under any jurisdiction's standards of professional conduct to protect Movant's attorney-client privilege. Rule 83.7 of the Local Rules of this District provides that:

In all appearances, actions and proceedings within the jurisdiction of this court, attorneys shall conduct themselves in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Standards of Professional Conduct promulgated and adopted by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, and the Model Rules of Professional Conduct published by the American Bar Association.

         Both the Rules of Professional Conduct promulgated by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia and the American Bar Association's (“ABA”) Model Rules of Professional Conduct address the confidentiality of information shared between an attorney and his or her client. See West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6 and 1.9(b); Model Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c). These rules substantially limit the circumstances under which an attorney may reveal privileged communications without an express and informed waiver of the privilege by the client.

         Moreover, on July 14, 2010, the ABA's Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 10-456, entitled “Disclosure of Information to Prosecutor When Lawyer's Former Client Brings Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claim.” Although this opinion is not binding on the court, see, e.g., Jones v. United States, 2012 WL 484663 *2 (E.D. Mo. Feb. 14, 2012); Employer's Reinsurance Corp. v. Clarendon Nat. Ins. Co., 213 F.R.D. 422, 430 (D. Kan. 2003), it provides a reasoned discussion of the competing interests that arise in the context of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim and their impact on the continued confidentiality of attorney-client communications. In summary, the ABA acknowledges in the opinion that “an ineffective assistance of counsel claim ordinarily waives the attorney-client privilege with regard to some otherwise privileged information, ” but cautions that this waiver does not operate to fully release an attorney from his or her obligation to keep client information confidential unless the client gives informed consent for disclosure or disclosure is sanctioned by an exception contained in Model Rule 1.6. After examining the various exceptions contained in Model Rule 1.6, the ABA concludes that disclosure may be justified in certain circumstances; however, any such disclosure should be limited to that which the attorney believes is reasonably necessary and should be confined to “court-supervised” proceedings, rather than ex parte meetings with the non-client party. Simply put, the filing of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim does not operate as an unfettered waiver of all privileged communications.

         Upon examining the provisions of West Virginia's Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6, the undersigned notes that Rule 1.6(b)(5) permits a lawyer to “reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary ... to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer's representation of a client.” In the Comment that follows the Rule, the Supreme Court of Appeals instructs the lawyer to make every effort practicable to avoid unnecessary disclosure of information relating to a representation, to limit disclosure to those having the need to know it, and to obtain protective orders or make other arrangements minimizing the risk of disclosure. Similarly, Model Rule 1.6(b)(5) authorizes an attorney to reveal information regarding the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary “to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer's representation of the client.” Furthermore, both West Virginia Rule 1.6(b)(6) and Model Rule 1.6(b)(6) explicitly state that the lawyer may disclose such information “to comply with other law or a court order.” Ultimately, a lawyer must comply with orders of a court of competent jurisdiction, which require the lawyer to disclose information about the client. In view of these provisions, the Court finds that defense counsel in this case may, without violating the applicable Rules of Professional Conduct, disclose information in this proceeding regarding his communications with Movant to the extent reasonably necessary to comply with an order of this Court, or to respond to the allegations of ineffective representation.

         Having addressed the responsibilities of counsel, the Court turns to its authority and obligations. As previously noted, federal courts have long held that when a “habeas petitioner raises a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, he waives the attorney-client privilege as to all communications with his allegedly ineffective lawyer.” Bittaker v. Woodford, 331 F.3d 715, 716 (9th Cir. 2003).[1] Subsequent to the opinion in Bittaker, Rule 502 of the Federal Rules of Evidence was enacted to explicitly deal with the effect and extent of a waiver of the attorney-client privilege in a Federal proceeding. Rule 502(a)[2]

         provides in relevant part:

When the disclosure is made in a Federal proceeding or to a Federal office or agency and waives the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection, the waiver extends to an undisclosed communication or information in a Federal or State proceeding only if: (1) the waiver is intentional; (2) the disclosed and undisclosed communications or information concern the same subject matter; and (3) they ought in fairness to be considered together.

         Here, Movant intentionally waived in the § 2255 motion the attorney-client privilege that attached to some of his communications with counsel; for example, those communications pertaining to his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Accordingly, in regard to any such discussions, a subject matter waiver of the privilege attendant to those particular communications should be permitted in fairness to the United States.

         Nonetheless, the Court retains authority to issue a protective order governing production of the privileged information, including the method by which the currently undisclosed communications will be disclosed. See Rule 12, Rules Governing § 2255 Proceedings; FRCP 26(c); and FRE 502; See also United States v. Nicholson, 611 F.3d 191, 217 (4th Cir. 2010). Rule 7 of the Rules Governing Section 2255 Proceedings expressly authorizes the use of affidavits as part of the record. The undersigned finds that an affidavit and any supporting documents submitted by counsel should supply the basic information required by the Court and the parties to allow them to evaluate Movant's § 2255 motion while simultaneously ensuring a reasonable limitation on the breadth of the waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

         Therefore, for the forgoing reasons, the Court ORDERS Movant's prior counsel, Glen D. Conway, to file within thirty (30) days of the date of this Order an affidavit responding to Movant's ineffective assistance of counsel claims set forth in the § 2255 motion. The affidavit shall include all of the information that is necessary, in counsel's view, to fully respond to the claims and shall include as attachments copies of any documents from his file specifically addressing the matters raised by Movant in his motion. To the extent that these documents address other aspects of counsel's representation of Movant, which are not pertinent to a resolution of the § 2255, ...

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