Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum, In re

Decision Date02 May 1997
Docket NumberNo. 96-4108,96-4108
Parties, 37 Fed.R.Serv.3d 309, 46 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 610 In re GRAND JURY SUBPOENA DUCES TECUM.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit

Kenneth W. Starr, John D. Bates, W. Hickman Ewing, and Brett M. Kavanaugh, on the brief, Washington, DC, for appellant.

Andrew L. Frey, Washington, DC, argued, (Kenneth S. Geller, Lawrence S. Robbins, and Gary A. Winters, on the brief, Washington, DC, for the White House), for appellee.

David Evan Kendall, Nicole K. Seligman, and Max Stier, on the brief, Washington, DC, for Intervenor/Appellee Hillary Clinton.

Before BOWMAN and WOLLMAN, Circuit Judges, and KOPF, 1 District Judge.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

The Office of Independent Counsel (OIC) appeals from an order of the District Court denying the OIC's motion to compel the production of documents subpoenaed by a federal grand jury. We reverse and remand.


The task assigned to Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr is to investigate and prosecute matters "relating in any way to James B. McDougal's, President William Jefferson Clinton's, or Mrs. Hillary Rodham Clinton's relationships with Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan Association, Whitewater Development Corporation, or Capital Management Services, Inc." In re Madison Guar. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, Div. No. 94-1, Order at 1-2 (D.C.Cir.Sp.Div. Aug. 5, 1994). Mr. Starr also is charged with the duty of pursuing evidence of other violations of the law developed during and connected with or arising out of his primary investigation, known generally as "Whitewater." See id. See generally United States v. Tucker, 78 F.3d 1313 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 76, 136 L.Ed.2d 35 (1996).

On June 21, 1996, as part of its investigation, the OIC directed to the White House a grand jury subpoena that required production of "[a]ll documents created during meetings attended by any attorney from the Office of Counsel to the President and Hillary Rodham Clinton (regardless whether any other person was present)" pertaining to several Whitewater-related subjects. Subpoena Rider at 1. The White House identified nine sets of notes responsive to the subpoena but refused to produce them, citing executive privilege, attorney-client privilege, and the attorney work product doctrine.

On August 19, 1996, the OIC filed a motion before the District Court to compel production of two of the nine sets of documents identified by the White House. The first set of documents comprises notes taken by Associate Counsel to the President Miriam Nemetz on July 11, 1995, at a meeting attended by Mrs. Clinton, Special Counsel to the President Jane Sherburne, and Mrs. Clinton's personal attorney, David Kendall. The subject of this meeting was Mrs. Clinton's activities following the death of Deputy Counsel to the President Vincent W. Foster, Jr. The documents in the second collection are notes taken by Ms. Sherburne on January 26, 1996, during meetings attended by Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Kendall, Nicole Seligman (a partner of Mr. Kendall's), and, at times, John Quinn, Counsel to the President. These meetings, which took place during breaks in and immediately after Mrs. Clinton's testimony before a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., concerned primarily the discovery of certain billing records from the Rose Law Firm in the residence area of the White House.

The White House abandoned its claim of executive privilege before the District Court, relying solely on the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. Mrs. Clinton also entered a personal appearance through counsel in the District Court and asserted her personal attorney-client privilege. The District Court found it unnecessary to reach the broadest question presented by the OIC, whether a federal governmental entity may assert the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine in response to a subpoena by a federal grand jury. Instead, the court concluded that because Mrs. Clinton and the White House had a "genuine and reasonable (whether or not mistaken)" belief that the conversations at issue were privileged, the attorney-client privilege applied. Memorandum Opinion and Order at 20. In addition, the court held that the work product doctrine prevented disclosure of the notes to the grand jury. See id. at 22.

The OIC appealed, and we granted expedited review. Mrs. Clinton moved to intervene formally, and we granted her motion. The case was submitted following oral arguments in a closed session. The District Court did not find it necessary to examine the disputed materials in camera, see id. at 18 n. 10, and neither do we. 2

At the request of the White House, and in order to preserve the secrecy of the grand jury's proceedings, we filed our opinion under seal on April 9, 1997, intending to publish a redacted opinion shortly thereafter. Since we filed our opinion, however, press reports have related some of the substance of our decision. Believing that these disclosures have portrayed the White House in an unfairly negative light, the White House and Mrs. Clinton moved this Court to publish its opinion and to unseal the briefs and appendices filed in this Court, and the OIC joined in the motion. The motion is granted. Accordingly, this opinion, as amended, together with Judge Kopf's dissent, is released for publication, and the briefs and appendices are ordered unsealed.


We first consider our jurisdiction to entertain this appeal. An order of a district court denying a motion to quash a grand jury subpoena--that is, an order requiring compliance with the subpoena--is not immediately appealable. See Cobbledick v. United States, 309 U.S. 323, 327-28, 60 S.Ct. 540, 542-43, 84 L.Ed. 783 (1940). But see United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683, 691-92, 94 S.Ct. 3090, 3099-3100, 41 L.Ed.2d 1039 (1974) (determining that, in unique context of case, President could appeal without first being cited for contempt). This case presents the opposite situation: an order refusing to require compliance with a subpoena. An order granting a motion to quash a subpoena is an appealable order, either under 18 U.S.C. § 3731 (1994) (permitting government to appeal from an order "excluding evidence ... in a criminal proceeding"), or under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1994) (permitting appeals from "all final decisions of the district courts"). See In re Grand Jury Subpoena (Kent), 646 F.2d 963, 967-68 (5th Cir. Unit B June 1981); In re Grand Jury Empanelled Feb. 14, 1978 (Colucci), 597 F.2d 851, 854-58 (3d Cir.1979). It makes no practical difference that the instant case involves the denial of a motion to enforce a subpoena rather than the grant of a motion to quash a subpoena. We conclude that we have jurisdiction over this appeal.

Although this case is a dispute between two entities of the federal government, i.e., the White House and the OIC, it presents a justiciable controversy. See Nixon, 418 U.S. at 697, 94 S.Ct. at 3102.


We will address first the issue that the District Court found it unnecessary to decide: whether an entity of the federal government may use the attorney-client privilege to avoid complying with a subpoena by a federal grand jury. Before we confront the merits of this question, however, we believe it is important to identify what is not at issue in this case. The OIC does not seek to invade the attorney-client relationship existing between Mrs. Clinton, in her personal capacity, and Mr. Kendall, her personal lawyer. The privilege set up by the White House is strictly a governmental privilege, with the White House (or the Office of the President, alternatively) as client and Ms. Sherburne and Ms. Nemetz as attorneys. Accordingly, the White House is the real party in interest in this case, although Mrs. Clinton presents arguments similar to those of the White House in her capacity as an intervenor.

The discussion that follows can be summed up rather simply. We need not decide whether a governmental attorney-client privilege exists in other contexts, for it is enough to conclude that even if it does, the White House may not use the privilege to withhold potentially relevant information from a federal grand jury.


"[T]he privilege of a witness, person, government, State, or political subdivision thereof [is] governed by the principles of the common law as they may be interpreted by the courts of the United States in the light of reason and experience." Fed.R.Evid. 501. We must therefore apply the federal common law of attorney-client privilege to the situation presented by this case. See In re Bieter Co., 16 F.3d 929, 935 (8th Cir.1994).

The OIC and the White House have taken strikingly different rhetorical approaches to the question presented here. The OIC argues that recognizing an attorney-client privilege in these circumstances would be tantamount to establishing a new privilege, which courts ordinarily undertake with great reluctance. The White House, in contrast, argues that the attorney-client privilege is already the best-established of the common-law privileges and that, furthermore, it is an absolute privilege. The White House is correct, of course, in its assertion that the attorney-client privilege is the oldest known to the common law. See Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 389, 101 S.Ct. 677, 682, 66 L.Ed.2d 584 (1981). But the lengthy roots of the privilege do not necessarily mean that it must apply in this dispute within the federal government, especially because the privilege has not previously been so applied. Nor does the White House advance its case significantly by arguing that the attorney-client privilege is absolute, in the sense that it cannot be overcome by a showing of need. See, e.g., Admiral Ins. Co. v. United States Dist. Court, 881 F.2d 1486, 1493-94 (9th Cir.1989). This argument merely begs the true question, whether a governmental attorney-client...

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