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What are the penalties for violating attorney-client privilege in California?

Whittier, CA |

In a public filing my attorney claims things I stated to him not on file anywhere. Although I did not state them they include that I told him I feared going to court because I might get arrested. They also disclose his beliefs in a civil manner that what I did was criminal although never alleged and unfounded. All I've found so far is a code that attorney's can't violate this privilege. I don't see anywhere any possible penalties...His wrongful assertions/violations had nothing to do with his filing and were not needed but used to influence the court and intimidate me, possible with him contacting the other party to suggest having me arrested. Thanks.

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Best Answer

You do not state the context of the "public filing" or why the statements made by your attorney (I am assuming in a declaration or pleading) were confidential communications. Without knowing the context and other relevant facts, I am not quick to declare the attorney has violated an ethical rule.
There are several exceptions to the attorney-client privilege. Most notably is Evidence Code § 958 provides which provides: “There is no [attorney-client] privilege. . .as to a communication relevant to an issue of breach, by the lawyer or by the client, of a duty arising out of the lawyer-client relationship." There are others such as the crime/fraud exception. See, Evidence Code sections 950-962.
Still, even when an exception applies, the attorney has a duty to maintain the confidences and secrets of a client and prevent their disclosure to third parties. For example, in a fee dispute, documents which reveal confidential information should be filed under seal for in camera review to prevent their disclosure to persons who have no interest in the fee dispute.
The State Bar has sole authority to discipline an attorney for violating ethical rules. The violation of an ethical rule does not, per se, give rise to a cause of action by a client. If you feel your attorney has violated an ethical rule, you may report the matter to the State Bar for investigation. The Bar will determine what penalty, if any, to impose if it finds an ethical rule has been violated.
-- Michael

Michael R. Daymude, Attorney at Law
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Sherman Oaks, CA 91403-3199
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Thanks. Unfortunately the State Bar of California is seriously under-funded. The ramifications of the breech so far are unknown so my guess is The State Bar punishment wouldn't be much and there's no outside civil action. I was hoping there was a well-defined minimum penalty the State Bar would have to impose. Reading about the State Bar recently and lawyers running rampant having faith in them doing anything is minimal.


Violation of the rules related to attorney confidences is a disciplinable offense that could lead to consequences associated his ability to continue practicing law. If you believe you have been victimized by an attorney who has unlawfully disclosed client confidences, you should report that event to the State Bar of California. The bar will investigate, and if the charges are found to be true, the attorney can face discipline up to and including possible disbarment.

Good luck to you.

This answer should not be construed to create any attorney-client relationship. Such a relationship can be formed only through the mutual execution of an attorney-client agreement. The answer given is based on the extremely limited facts provided and the proper course of action might change significantly with the introduction of other facts. All who read this answer should not rely on the answer to govern their conduct. Please seek the advice of competent counsel after disclosing all facts to that attorney. This answer is intended for California residents only. The answering party is only licensed to practice in the State of California.


Contact the State Bar.