296 F.2d 918 (2nd Cir. 1961), 168, United States v. Kovel

Docket Nº:168, 27207.
Citation:296 F.2d 918
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Appellee, v. Louis KOVEL, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:December 05, 1961
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

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296 F.2d 918 (2nd Cir. 1961)

UNITED STATES of America, Appellee,


Louis KOVEL, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 168, 27207.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

December 5, 1961

Argued Nov. 2, 1961.

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Louis Bender, New York City (Louis Bender and Jerome Kamerman), New York City, for appellant.

Gerald Walpin, Asst. U.S. Atty., New York City (Robert M. Morgenthau, U.S. Atty. for Southern Dist. of New York, David Klingsberg, Asst. U.S. Atty., New York City, of counsel), for appellee.

New York County Lawyers' Association, New York City (Boris Kostelanetz, Jules Ritholz and Bud G. Holman, New York City, of counsel), submitted a brief as amicus curiae.

Before CLARK, HINCKS and FRIENDLY, Circuit Judges.

FRIENDLY, Circuit Judge.

This appeal from a sentence for criminal contempt for refusing to answer a question asked in the course of an inquiry by a grand jury raises an important issue as to the application of the attorney-client privilege to a non-lawyer employed by a law firm. Our decision of that issue leaves us with the further problem of what disposition is appropriate on a record which, due to the extreme positions erroneously taken by both parties in the court below, lacks the evidence needed to determine whether or not the privilege existed. We vacate the judgment and remand so that the facts may be developed.

Kovel is a former Internal Revenue agent having accounting skills. Since 1943 he has been employed by Kamerman & Kamerman, a law firm specializing in tax law. A grand jury in the Southern District of New York was investigating alleged Federal income tax violations by Hopps, a client of the law firm; Kovel was subpoenaed to appear on September 6, 1961, a few days before the date, September 8, when the Government feared the statute of limitations might run. The law firm advised the Assistant United States Attorney that since Kovel was an employee under the direct supervision of the partners, Kovel could not disclose any communications by the client of the result of any work done for the client, unless the latter consented; the Assistant answered that the attorney-client privilege did not apply to one who was not an attorney.

The record reveals nothing as to what occurred on September 6. On September 7, the grand jury appeared before Judge Cashin. The Assistant United States Attorney informed the judge that Kovel had refused to answer 'several questions * * * on the grounds of attorney-client privilege'; he proffered 'respectable authority * * * that an accountant, even if he is retained or employed by a firm of attorneys, cannot take the privilege.' The judge answered 'You don't have to give me any authority on that.' A court reporter testified that Kovel, after an initial claim of privilege had admitted receiving a statement of Hopps' assets and liabilities, but that, when asked 'what was the purpose of your receiving that,' had declined to answer on the ground of privilege 'Because the communication was received with a purpose, as stated by the client'; later questions and answers indicated the communication was a letter addressed to

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Kovel. After verifying that Kovel was not a lawyer, the judge directed him to answer, saying 'You have no privilege as such.' The reporter then read another question Kovel had refused to answer, 'Did you ever discuss with Mr. Hopps or give Mr. Hopps any information with regard to treatment for capital gains purposes of the Atlantic Beverage Corporation sale by him?' The judge again directed Kovel to answer, reaffirming 'There is no privilege-- you are entitled to no privilege, as I understand the law.' Kovel asked whether he might say something; the judge instructed him to answer, saying 'I'm not going to listen.' Kovel also declined to tell what Hopps had said concerning a transaction underlying a bad debt deduction in Hopps' 1954 return, and whether Hopps had told him that a certain transfer of securities 'had no effect whatsoever' and was just a form of accommodation; the judge gave similar directions after the reporter had read each question and refusal to answer. Then the grand jury, the Assistant and Kovel returned to the grand jury room.

Later on September 7, they and Kovel's employer, Jerome Kamerman, now acting as his counsel, appeared again before Judge Cashin. The Assistant told the judge that Kovel had 'refused to answer some of the questions which you had directed him to answer.' A reporter reread so much of the transcript heretofore summarized as contained the first two refusals. The judge offered Kovel another opportunity to answer, reiterating the view, 'There is no privilege to this man at all.' Counsel referred to New York Civil Practice Act, § 353, which we quote in the margin, 1 and sought an adjournment until co-counsel could appear; the judge put the matter over until the next morning.

On the morning of September 8, the same dramatic personae, plus the added counsel, attended in open court. Counsel reiterated that an employee 'who sits with the client of the law firm * * * occupies the same status * * * as a clerk or stenographer or any other lawyer * * *'; The judge was equally clear that the privilege was never 'extended beyond the attorney.' In the course of a colloquy the Assistant made it plain that further questions beyond the two immediately at issue might be asked. After the judge had briefly retired, leaving the Assistant and Kovel with the grand jury, proceedings in open court resumed. The reporter recited that in the interval, on reappearing before the grand jury and being asked 'What was the purpose communicated to you by Mr. Hopps for your receiving from him an asset and liability statement of his personal financial situation?', Kovel had declined to answer. On again being directed to do so, Kovel declined 'on the ground that it is a privileged communication.' The court held him in contempt, sentenced him to a year's imprisonment, ordered immediate commitment and denied bail. Later in the day, the grand jury having indicted, Kovel was released until September 12, at which time, without opposition from the Government, I granted bail pending determination of this appeal.

Here the parties continue to take generally the same positions as below--Kovel, that his status as an employee of a law firm automatically made all communications to him from clients privileged; the Government, that under no circumstances could there be privilege with respect to communications to an accountant. The New York County Lawyers' Association as amicus curiae has filed a brief generally supporting appellant's position.


Decision under what circumstances, if any, the attorney-client privilege

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may include a communication to a nonlawyer by the lawyer's client is the resultant of two conflicting forces. One is the general teaching that 'The investigation of truth and the enforcement of testimonial duty demand the restriction, not the expansion, of these privileges,' 8 Wigmore, Evidence (McNaughton Rev. 1961), § 2192, p. 73. The other is the more particular lesson 'That as, by reason of the complexity and difficulty of our law, litigation can only be properly conducted by professional men, it is absolutely necessary that a man * * * should have recourse to the assistance of professional lawyers, and * * * it is equally necessary * * * that he should be able to place unrestricted and unbounded confidence in the professional agent, and that the...

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