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State of Texas v. United States of America

January 2, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


The State of Texas seeks preclearance of its redistricting plans for the U.S. House of Representatives, State House of Representatives, and State Senate, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended ("VRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1973 et seq.*fn1 Preparing for trial in January 2012, the parties have reached a discovery impasse: Texas claims that the attorney-client privilege, the attorney work-product doctrine, and State legislative and statutory privileges shield various materials from production or testimony here. The parties filed simultaneous briefs, and the Court treats those filed by Defendants and Defendant-Intervenors as motions to compel.

The disputed material falls into three categories. First are communications between key members of the State Legislature and the three legislative staffers who drew the maps at issue: Doug Davis, counsel to State Senator Kel Seliger, Chair of the State Senate Redistricting Committee; Ryan Downton, counsel to the State House Redistricting Committee under Chair Burt Solomons; and Gerardo Interiano, counsel to Joe Straus, Speaker of the State House of Representatives. Each staff counsel will be called as a witness for Texas at trial. Texas claims all such communications are not subject to discovery. Second are communications between the Texas Legislative Council and key members of the State Legislature or their staffs. David Hanna, an attorney employed by the Council, has been identified as a witness for Texas during trial. Texas claims that communications from Mr. Hanna are privileged. Last are documents containing summaries of racially polarized voting analyses prepared by technical staff of the Office of the Texas Attorney General ("OAG"). Mr. Giberson prepared the summaries; he will be one of Texas' witnesses at trial. Texas interposed the attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product doctrine when it refused discovery requests from the United States for the summaries.

The United States has asked the Court to resolve these claims by the morning of January 4, 2012, when it has scheduled the depositions of David Hanna and Clare Dyer, another employee of the Texas Legislative Council. Defendant-Intervenors, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and Wendy Davis, et al. ("Davis Intervenors"), and have also filed motions disputing Texas' claims of privilege.*fn2

Taking its cue from the District Court for the Western District of Texas, which has a Section 2 VRA case before it,*fn3 the Court will not decide whether a State legislative privilege exists and follows into federal court, since Texas will provide all relevant documents under seal. Publication of such documents, if necessary, can be determined at trial. The evidence does not support the claimed attorney-client relationships or application of the attorney work-product doctrine; if Texas wishes to pursue any such privilege, it must provide evidentiary support. Finally, the Court sees nothing in the Texas Government Code or otherwise to support a claim of a legal privilege - to be distinguished from confidentiality - between the State Legislature and the Texas Legislative Council. Except as otherwise specified, Texas will be ordered to produce the requested documents.


The proponent of a privilege in federal court bears the burden of demonstrating facts sufficient to establish the privilege's applicability. In re Subpoena Duces Tecum, 439 F.3d 740, 750 (D.C. Cir. 2006); see Alexander v. F.B.I., 192 F.R.D. 32, 33-34 (D.D.C. 2000) (a party bringing a motion to compel bears the initial burden of showing that the information is relevant and discoverable; then the burden shifts to the defendant to prove that the information is privileged). The "basis of privilege" must be "adequately established in the record," Liberty Lobby, Inc. v. Dow Jones & Co., Inc., 838 F.2d 1287, 1303 (D.C. Cir. 1988), through evidence sufficient to establish the privilege "with reasonable certainty." FTC v. TRW, Inc., 628 F.2d 207, 213 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

A. Attorney-Client Privilege

"The attorney-client privilege is the oldest of the privileges for confidential communications known to the common law." Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383, 389 (1981). Its purpose is "to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice." Id. A party asserting the attorney-client privilege must demonstrate that: (1) the asserted holder of the privilege is or sought to become a client; (2) the person to whom the communication was made (a) is a member of the bar of a court or her subordinate and (b) in connection with this communication is acting as a lawyer; (3) the communication relates to a fact of which the attorney was informed (a) by his client (b) without the presence of strangers (c) for the purpose of securing primarily either (i) an opinion on the law or (ii) legal services or (iii) assistance in some legal proceeding, and not (d) for the purpose of committing a crime or tort; and (4) the privilege has been (a) claimed and (b) not waived by the client. In re Sealed Case, 737 F.2d 94, 98-99 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The privilege attaches to an attorney's communication with his client "only insofar as the attorney's communications disclose the confidential communications from the client." Evans v. Atwood, 177 F.R.D. 1, 4 (D.D.C. 1997) (quoting Brinton v. Dep't of State, 636 F.2d 600, 603-04 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). "A blanket assertion of the privilege will not suffice. Rather, the proponent must conclusively prove each element of the privilege." In re Lindsey, 148 F.3d 1100, 1106 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (internal citation and quotation omitted).

The attorney-client privilege does not protect any and all communications between a client and a lawyer. Courts tend to apply the privilege narrowly because it blocks full disclosure of relevant information. Routine routing of information through counsel, for instance, may not result in a privileged communication. See S. Bell Tel. & Tel. Co. v. Deason, 632 So. 2d 1377, 1383 (Fla. 1994). The privilege does not ordinarily protect a client's identity. United States v. BDO Seidman, 337 F.3d 802, 811 (7th Cir. 2003). While the privilege may protect the content of an attorney-client communication from disclosure, it may not protect the facts communicated. Mackey v. IBP, Inc., 167 F.R.D. 186, 200 (D. Kan. 1996). Both clients and lawyers can waive the attorney-client privilege. See, e.g., Alexander v. FBI, 186 F.R.D. 128, 134 (D.D.C. 1998).

If a party intentionally waives the attorney-client privilege for part of a conversation or communication, the privilege as to rest of that communication and for any communication related to the same subject matter also is waived, if in fairness they ought to be considered together. See Fed. R. Evid. 502(a); Williams & Connolly v. S.E.C., No. 10-5330, 2011 WL 6118584, *2 (D.C. Cir. Dec. 9, 2011). A court "retains broad discretion in deciding the appropriate scope of a waiver." In re United Mine Workers of Am. Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 159 F.R.D. 307, 309 (D.D.C. 1994). Once a privilege has been waived and privileged information made public, the information remains public for all purposes. See Navajo Nation v. Peabody Holding Co., Inc., 209 F. Supp. 2d 269, 284-84 (D.D.C. 2002) (to the extent documents were made public, any claim of privilege must fail).*fn4

B. Attorney Work-Product Doctrine

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure protect from discovery "documents and tangible things that are prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or its representative." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3). The purpose of the doctrine is to protect the adversary process by ensuring that lawyers work with a "degree of privacy, free from unnecessary intrusion by opposing parties and their counsel." Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 510 (1947). The work-product doctrine "protects factual materials prepared in anticipation of litigation." Tax Analysts v. Internal Revenue Service, 117 F.3d 607, 620 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Thus, "[a]ny part of [a document] prepared in anticipation of litigation, not just the portions concerning opinions, legal theories, and the like, is protected by the work[-]product doctrine . . . ." Id. It is "not necessary that litigation be threatened or imminent, as long as the prospect of litigation is identifiable because of claims that have already arisen." Nat'l Tank Co. v. Brotherton, 851 S.W.2d 193, 205 (Tex. 1993). Work-product immunity is held by the lawyer, not the client, although either may assert the doctrine during discovery. "The party invoking the privilege, however, has the burden of proving that the memoranda qualify as work product." Hager v. Bluefield Regional Medical Center, Inc., 170 F.R.D. 70, 76 (D.D.C. 1997). "In reviewing the documents claimed to be protected by the work-product privilege, the court must determine whether, in light of the nature of the document or the factual situation in a particular case, the document can fairly be said to have been prepared or obtained because of the prospect of litigation." Jinks-Umstead v. England, 231 F.R.D. 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2005).

Because protection for attorney work-product is based on a legal doctrine, and not a "privilege," the protection is qualified and not absolute; it can be overcome if a party "shows that it has substantial need for the materials to prepare its case and cannot, without undue hardship, obtain their substantial equivalent by other means." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3)(A)(ii); see also Equal Rights Ctr. v. Post Properties, Inc., 247 F.R.D. 208, 211-12 (D.D.C. 2008). Courts do not recognize the privilege where to do so would undermine the discovery process and deprive the Court of important evidence. Ex rel. Fago, 242 F.R.D. 16, 19 (D.D.C. 2007). The work-product doctrine relies, in the first instance, on the existence of an attorney-client relationship.

Texas claims the work-product doctrine protects from discovery three documents reflecting communications between Mr. Hanna of the Texas Legislative Council and unidentified members of the Legislature on April 6, 12, and 20 of 2011. See Texas Br. [Dkt. #122] at 6 n.2. Texas reports that the first redistricting lawsuit was Teuber v. State of Texas, Civ. No. 4:11-cv-00059 (E.D. Tex.), filed on February 10, 2011, a necessary precursor to applicability of the doctrine. The Teuber suit challenged the Texas' former voting districts and sought to require the Census Bureau to adjust the census figures used in redistricting to account for undocumented aliens; it did not involve any challenge to 2011 redistricting efforts by the State Legislature. See U.S. Resp. [Dkt. #125], Ex. 4 (Teuber Complaint).

C. State Legislative Privilege

There is no state legislative privilege identified in the Federal Rules of Evidence and the D.C. Circuit has never recognized one.*fn5 The United States urges the Court to avoid recognizing such a privilege in this case. Equating immunity for legislative acts to privilege for legislators' communications, Texas asserts that "state legislators enjoy common-law immunity from liability for their legislative acts, an immunity that is similar in origin and rationale to that accorded Congressmen under the Speech or Debate Clause." See Supreme Court of Virginia v. Consumers Union of the U.S., Inc., 446 U.S. 719, 732 (1980). Texas argues that "[e]ffectuating the intentions of the legislative immunity doctrine, legislators acting within the realm of legitimate legislative activity, should not be required to be a party to a civil action concerning legislative activities, nor should they be required to testify regarding those actions." Texas Br. at 9 (quoting Miles-Un-Ltd., Inc. v. Town of New Shoreham, 917 F. Supp. 91, 98 (D.N.H. 1996)). Texas particularly relies on Supreme Court dicta, noting that "[i]n some extraordinary instances the members [of the decisionmaking body] might be called to the stand at trial to testify concerning the purpose of the official action, although even then such testimony will frequently be barred by privilege." Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 268 (1977).

D. Texas Government Code § 323.017

Under Texas State law, the Texas Legislative Council is "an agency of the legislative branch of state government." Tx. Gov't Code § 323.001(a). The Council consists of the Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, the Chair of the State House Administration Committee, six State senators and five other members of the State House of Representatives. Id. § 323.001(b). "The lieutenant governor and the speaker act as the council during a regular ...

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