If a client submits a document labeled 'attorney-client' to a government agency, it becomes public record (per the US government authority). If the document is obtained from the government (sent by the government to an inquiring mind), is it effectively NOT attorney-client privileged?


The disclosure by the client to the government is intentional in the form of a complaint. The disclosure of the document to any requestor is also not accidental.

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Attorney-client privilege is normally waived if a privileged communication is voluntarily disclosed. Submission of an attorney-client privileged document to a judge to review in camera does not waive the attorney-client privilege.

Most of the case law involves inadvertent "oops" style disclosures of attorney-client privileged documents (keep in mind that big lawsuits often involve exchanges of terabytes of data that have to be reviewed page by page for attorney-client privileged materials by armies of junior lawyers and paralegals, so mistakes are inevitably made now and then), which is a somewhat convoluted area of law. Basically, if it is caught soon enough, the person accidentally receiving it can be ordered to not look at it any more and to destroy it without keeping copies if it remains within an accidental recipient law firm or government agency's possession and has not been further disseminated into public records yet. In particular, such documents can't be presented as evidence at trial if the mistake is caught before it is too late to correct the mistake. In those cases, the legal system does its best to pretend that the mistaken disclosure of attorney-client privileged materials never happened.

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