In-house counsel in California has been temporarily disqualified after they intercepted and used information contained in privileged e-mails which they received accidentally. Counsel for the plaintiff sent several privileged e-mails to individual plaintiffs suing their former company. These e-mail included sensitive documents, including a draft declaration. The problem is counsel for the plaintiff mistakenly sent these documents to one client’s former work e-mail address, which the company they were suing still maintained and monitored. In-house counsel for the company reviewed the e-mails sent by plaintiff’s counsel and allegedly used the information contained therein to construct a counterclaim against the plaintiffs.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted a temporary protective order disqualifying the company’s outside counsel and ordering the company to retain alternate counsel who would be required to submit a new declaration indicating that new counsel has received no information regarding the mistakenly disclosed privileged information. The Court also disqualified the in-house counsel who reviewed the privileged e-mail correspondence. Finally, the Court ordered the company to dismiss its counterclaim, without prejudice, so that it could be re-filed by new counsel without reference to the privileged information.
It is obvious from this recent court ruling that attorneys need to be careful if they inadvertently come into contact with privileged information. Given the new technologies available, this problem has the increased possibility of becoming more widespread. Contact our office to get more information about your potential legal malpractice claim.