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Balanced Perspective on Attorney Subpoenas

NCJ Number
Emory Law Journal Volume: 36 Issue: 3 Dated: (Summer 1987) Pages: 803-809
R C Bonner
Date Published
7 pages
The U.S. Attorney's Office rarely seeks to subpoena attorneys for information regarding their clients, but it does so in certain situations in the interests of justice.
In Los Angeles and some other areas of the Nation, a significant number of defense attorneys in narcotics cases are hired and paid a fee and, in effect, act knowingly or unknowingly as a shield between the accused person and the hidden payor of the fees. Thus, they prevent implication or disclosure of the payor of the legal fees and other superiors in the narcotics distribution organization. A client who contacts the prosecutor directly to offer cooperation and who is told to have the attorney contact the prosecutor is often fearful that the attorney will inform the fee-paying criminal of the client's desire to cooperate. This criminal may cause injury or death to the client. Under such circumstances, subpoenaing attorney-fee information is appropriate, particularly where the trial has been completed. Similarly, issuing a subpoena to an attorney is appropriate where as defendants in fraud cases claim, as a defense, that they relied on advice of counsel. Subpoenaed attorneys who believe that the attorney-client privilege arguably applied has access to adequate procedures to adjudicate the issue and quash the subpoena. Discussions of this issue must also recognize the economic self-interest of narcotics defense attorneys who argue against subpoenas to disclose hidden payors. Attorneys can also eliminate problems related to disclosure of cash transactions by adopting a practice of not accepting cash fees.