When Does An Attorney-Client Privilege Permit An Attorney to Refuse to Disclose the Identity of a Client ?
In U.S. v. Blackman (9th Cir. 1995) 72 F.3d 1418, 1424, the Ninth Circuit acknowledged the attorney-client privilege permitted an attorney to refuse to disclose the identity of a client "where disclosure would compromise confidential communications between attorney and client or constitute the 'last link' in an existing chain of evidence likely to lead to the client's indictment." (72 F.3d at p. 1424.)
Blackman held there was no evidence that any of the attorney's clients who may be implicated in the dispute were currently the subject of ongoing investigation, and the "last link" doctrine did not apply. (Ibid.)
"We have repeatedly held that the attorney-client privilege does not apply where disclosure might incriminate the client or fee-payer, but only where it would convey information tantamount to a confidential communication." (Ibid.)
Blackman found the attorney failed to establish the clients' transfer of funds constituted a confidential communication, or related in any direct way to the purpose for the attorney was retained.
Blackman rejected the attorney's argument that because his receipt of the funds was "'inextricably linked to the legal service his firm was retained to provide,'" the identity of the fee-payers and the services were privileged. (Id. at p. 1425.)
"'The correct test is whether the fee-payer's identity and the fee arrangements are so intertwined with confidential communications that revealing either ... would be tantamount to revealing a privileged communication.'" (Ibid.)