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Attorney Invoices Are Not Disclosable Public Records

  • Vol. 2017, No. 6
  • June 26, 2017

Vol. 2017,No. 6 | June 26, 2017

On June 22, 2017, a California appellate court held that almost all portions of attorney invoices submitted to public agencies are beyond the scope of disclosure under the California Public Records Act (CPRA).  (County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court (2017) __ Cal.App.5th __ [2017 WL 2417758].)  The opinion clarifies recent California Supreme Court precedent on the attorney-client privilege and whether a public agency must disclose attorney invoices.  Now, the only portions of invoices subject to disclosure may be the total fees paid on concluded matters.  Any invoice for pending matters and all other information on invoices related to concluded matters is protected from disclosure.

Background

The case involved a CPRA request by the ACLU to the County of Los Angeles for attorney invoices in multiple lawsuits.  Citing the attorney-client privilege, the County disclosed redacted invoices for concluded suits, but withheld invoices for pending suits.  In response, the ACLU petitioned to compel disclosure of all unredacted invoices.  The trial court ordered the County to produce all invoices, including for pending matters, with only limited information redacted.

The Court of Appeal vacated the trial court’s order, holding that all of the invoices were exempt from disclosure based on the attorney-client privilege.  In December 2016, the Supreme Court reversed, drawing a distinction between pending and concluded matters.  For pending matters, the Court explained everything in an invoice is privileged because it can provide insight into an attorney’s activities and strategy.  For concluded matters, the total amount of attorneys fees may be disclosable if it no longer reveals confidential details of the representation.

Decision

On remand from the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal again vacated the trial court’s order compelling the County to disclose attorney invoices.  The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in ordering disclosure of: (1) any invoices for pending litigation, and (2) any portions of invoices, other than fee totals, for concluded litigation.

Notably, the Court of Appeal clarified that the Supreme Court “expressly limited its analysis to ‘fee totals’” when addressing disclosure of portions of invoices from concluded matters (although neither opinion specifically defines “concluded.”)   Thus, other privileged parts of an attorney invoice, such as descriptions of legal services, do not lose their privileged status due to the passage of time or the conclusion of a specific matter.

Impact

The opinion provides valuable guidance to public agencies responding to CPRA requests for attorney invoices.  Building on the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling, the opinion dictates that fee totals are the only portion of attorney invoices that may become unprivileged—and, thus, disclosable under the CPRA—due to the underlying matter having long since concluded.  Attorney invoices for pending matters should remain privileged and nondisclosable, as should all other portions of invoices for concluded matters.

Dannis Woliver Kelley has experience handling a wide variety of CPRA requests and can assist your district in formulating appropriate responses to any type of CPRA request and in disputes over disclosures, redactions, or exemptions.  If you have questions about responding to CPRA requests, please contact a DWK attorney.

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