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United States v. Kovel


    Citation. United States v. Kovel, 296 F.2d 918, 1961 U.S. App. LEXIS 3045, 62-1 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P9111, 9 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 366, 96 A.L.R.2d 116 (2d Cir. N.Y. Dec. 5, 1961)

    Brief Fact Summary. Defendant is a non-lawyer accountant who worked for a law firm whose client was being investigated for income tax violations. He was sentenced for contempt for failing to answer a question claiming the attorney-client privileged applied to him.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The attorney-client privilege applies to communications made in confidence while obtaining legal advice from a lawyer.


    Facts. Defendant, Kovel, refused to answer a question by a grand jury investigating a client of the law firm where Defendant was employed. The client was being investigated for Federal income tax violations. Defendant is a non-lawyer accountant hired by the law firm Kamerman & Kamerman. The law firm specializes in tax law. Defendant’s law firm argued that he was subject to the attorney-client privilege and could not disclose attorney-client communications unless the client consented.

    Issue. Should the attorney client privilege be allowed to prevent Defendant from answering questions even though he is not a lawyer?

    Held. Justice Friendly issued the opinion for the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in holding that the attorney-client privilege may apply to Defendant depending on whether the communications were for seeking legal advice or accounting advice.

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    Discussion. The Court of Appeals notes that each instance of deciding whether or not the attorney-client privilege applies to non-lawyers should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. If what is sought from the non-lawyer is not legal, then the privilege should not apply. The communication should be for the purpose of obtaining legal advice from a lawyer.

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