Attorney-Client Privilege — Arkansas Adopts Rules Protecting Inadvertent and Selective Disclosure

Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5), in conjunction with Arkansas Rule of Evidence 502, both effective January 10, 2008 (see 2008 Ark. LEXIS 435), establishes a procedure to protect against inadvertent waiver of attorney-client privilege. Ark. R. Evid. 502 also adopts the principle of selective waiver (a minority view), preserving privilege despite disclosure to officials in the course of regulatory, investigative, or enforcement activity.

Ark. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(5) provides:

(5) Inadvertent Disclosure. (A) A party who discloses or produces material or information without intending to waive a claim of privilege or attorney work product shall be presumed not to have waived under these rules and the Arkansas Rules of Evidence if the party takes the following steps: (i) within fourteen calendar days of discovering the inadvertent disclosure, the producing party must notify the receiving party by specifically identifying the material or information and asserting the privilege or doctrine protecting it; and (ii) if responses to written discovery are involved, then the producing party must amend them as part of this notice.

(B) Within fourteen calendar days of receiving notice of an inadvertent disclosure, a receiving party must return, sequester, or destroy the specified materials and all copies. After receiving this notice, the receiving party may not use or disclose the materials in any way.

(C) A receiving party may challenge a disclosing party's claim of privilege or protection and inadvertent disclosure. The reason for such a challenge may include, but is not limited to, the timeliness of the notice of inadvertent disclosure or whether all the surrounding circumstances show waiver.

(D) In deciding whether the privilege or protection has been waived, the circuit court shall consider all the material circumstances, including: (i) the reasonableness of the precautions taken to prevent inadvertent disclosure; (ii) the scope of the discovery; (iii) the extent of disclosure; and (iv) the interests of justice. Notwithstanding Model Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7, and without having to terminate representation in the matter, an attorney for the disclosing party may testify about the circumstances of disclosure and the procedures in place to protect against inadvertent disclosure.

Ark. R. Evid. 502 provides:

Rule 502. Lawyer-client privilege.

(e) Inadvertent disclosure. A disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine does not operate as a waiver if the disclosing party follows the procedure specified in Rule 26(b)(5) of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure and, in the event of a challenge by a receiving party, the circuit court finds in accordance with Rule 26(b)(5)(D) that there was no waiver.

(f) Selective waiver. Disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine to a governmental office or agency in the exercise of its regulatory, investigative, or enforcement authority does not operate as a waiver of the privilege or protection in favor of non-governmental persons or entities.

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