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Allen v. United States

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

August 26, 2019

RICO RODRIGUEZ ALLEN Movant,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          CHERYL A. EIFERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is the United States' Motion for an Order Directing Movant to File a Privilege Waiver and an Order Directing Movant's Former Counsel to Provide Information to the United States Concerning Movant's Claim of Ineffective Assistance of Counsel and an Abeyance. (ECF No. 54). The undersigned notes that the United States Attorney's Office continues to file in § 2255 cases alleging ineffective assistance of counsel the same motion asking the undersigned to compel the movant to file a waiver of the attorney-client privilege, notwithstanding that in each instance, the Court has declined to compel the movant to sign a waiver. Instead, the Court has recognized the implicit, but limited waiver of the attorney-client privilege, which naturally accompanies the filing of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, and has ordered an affidavit from the movant's trial counsel to determine the need for additional evidence and for a hearing. Therefore, for the reasons that have been explained many times before, the Court GRANTS the United States' motion for information pertinent to the ineffective assistance of counsel claim, but DENIES the motion to compel the movant to sign a privilege waiver and for ex parte contact with Movant's trial counsel.

         I. OPINION

         On July 29, 2019, Movant filed a Motion to Vacate, Set Aside, or Correct Sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255, (ECF No. 50). In the motion and accompanying memorandum, Movant alleges that he received ineffective assistance of counsel from his trial counsel, Rhett Johnson. Movant claims that Attorney Johnson failed to advise Movant that his case did not contain the essential elements of a 924(c) charge and, instead, encouraged Movant to enter a guilty plea to that charge. Movant contends that but for the ineffective assistance of counsel, he would not have entered a guilty plea to a 924(c) violation and would not now be serving a mandatory five-year sentence of imprisonment on the conviction. In view of Movant's allegations, the United States filed the instant motion requesting the Court to direct Movant to file a waiver of the attorney-client privilege that governed his communications with Attorney Johnson, arguing that it requires access to this privileged information in order to respond to the Movant's motion.

         When considering the United States' motion, the Court takes into account the professional and ethical responsibilities of Movant's attorney, as well as the obligation of the Court to ensure a fair, orderly, and efficient judicial proceeding. Clearly, 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(c); 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 their 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 professional 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 United States to allow it to respond to Movant's § 2255 motion and would be useful to the Court in resolving the § 2255 motion while simultaneously ensuring a reasonable limitation on the breadth of the waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

         II. ...


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