I know that many residents in the audience at the February 8 Board of Supervisors Meeting were confused and frustrated when they would pose specific questions to our elected officials and receive no response. The supervisors would turn to the Township Solicitor Tom Hogan for an opinion on a legal question and he would say that he could not answer, invoking attorney-client privilege. In conversation with residents since the meeting, there has been much discussion on the attorney-client privilege shared between Mr. Hogan and the supervisors. I know Tom Hogan personally; he’s one of the good guys and I need to believe that he would have given the residents his opinion (if permitted). But the fact remains that the public has legal questions in regards to St. Davids Golf Club, the return of the escrow, precedent set by the vote, ongoing liability to the township and its residents, etc.
If we cannot receive answers from our elected officials or township solicitor, where do we take our unanswered questions? Do community members have to hire their own attorney to receive answers?
I was greatly interested to received the following information from a reader, JudgeNJury on the subject of attorney-client privilege. I do not know the identity of this reader, but I am guessing that he/she could be a municipal attorney. An interesting read.
JudgeNJury 2010/02/10 wrote:
Under an opinion issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Jan. 29, it is far from clear that Hogan’s invocation of attorney-client privilege is correct. A link to a detailed article discussing the case follows, but this quote from the article is the main point: “The court issued a per curiam order in Nationwide v. Fleming Friday, upholding a Superior Court ruling that attorney-client privilege only applies to information given to the attorney by the client, not the other way around.”
In other words, there is a good argument to be made that the Supervisors can invoke the privilege to refuse to answer questions about what they told Hogan, but Hogan cannot invoke the privilege to refuse to answer questions about what he told the Supervisors. Personally, I think the court’s decision is absurd. But the law is the law.