LEO: Confidences and Secrets: Disclosure of LE Op. 1607
Confidences and Secrets: Disclosure of Client
Confidences Affecting Public Health Issue
When Client Refuses Consent.
September 16, 1994
You have presented a hypothetical situation in which a former employee of
a major company visits an attorney's office, and advises counsel that he
wishes assistance in making public certain information he has about
irregular, and possibly illegal, actions of his former employer which may
have an effect on public health. You also state that the client is
completely innocent of complicity of any sort in the company's decisions
or actions in this matter, having gained knowledge of the circumstances
Several days later, the client's wife prevails on the client not to risk
his new employment situation by making public his knowledge of these
events. (You state that the former employer may have some leverage with
the new employer.) The client then directs counsel not to go forward in
making the information public.
Counsel is now deeply concerned about his obligation to society, as
opposed to his obligation to the client, and wishes to release the
information out of concern for the health and safety of the public.
Counsel is concerned, however, that such release of the information
without the client's permission could be viewed as a breach of
confidentiality and could conceivably result in client losing his present
You have asked the committee to opine whether, under the facts of the
inquiry, counsel may make public the information he was provided by the
client, in the absence of the client's permission.
The appropriate and controlling Disciplinary Rule related to your inquiry
is DR:4-101, which provides for the preservation of client confidences
The information possessed by counsel is confidential, received within the
attorney-client relationship. Canon 4 provides, with few exceptions, for
the preservation of such client confidences and secrets.
The facts indicate that the client is innocent of any complicity in the
company's decisions or actions in the matter. The facts do not indicate
that the client has perpetrated a fraud upon a tribunal, or that he
intends to commit a crime, related to this matter. Therefore, the
exceptions to maintaining confidentiality, under DR:4-101(D) do not
Thus, the committee opines that counsel may not reveal the information
provided by the client, regardless of counsel's motivation, absent the
Committee Opinion September 16, 1994