The California Supreme Court has resolved a significant split among California appellate courts regarding whether inadvertent disclosure of documents in response to a Public Records Act request results in waiver of the attorney-client privilege pursuant to section 6254.5 of the Act. The court held that this waiver provision applies only to intentional release of a public record, and hence that a public agency’s inadvertent disclosure of a document does not waive applicable privileges.  Ardon v. City of Los Angeles, No: S223876 (March 17, 2016)

An attorney representing the plaintiff in a pending class action against the City of Los Angeles served the City with a request for documents under the Public Records Act. In response, an assistant city administrative officer provided the attorney with approximately 53 documents, among which were three memos containing attorney-client communications. After discovering this, the City notified plaintiff’s counsel that the privileged documents had been produced inadvertently, and requested their return. After plaintiff’s counsel refused, the City filed a motion to compel return of the documents, which was denied by the trial court.

In a published decision, the Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s ruling, concluding that production of the documents had waived any privilege pursuant to Section 6254.5 of the Act. The California Supreme Court granted the City’s petition for review of this decision. While review was pending, the First District Court of Appeal decided Newark Unified School District v. Superior Court, No. A142963 (1st Dist. Ct. App., August 1, 2015). As discussed in our report on that case (Court Rejects “Gotcha” Theory of Waiver Under Public Records Act), the First District held that inadvertent disclosure of documents containing attorney-client communications in response to a Public Records Act request does not result in a waiver of the privilege under section 6254.5.
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