Confession attorney-client privilege? 

click to enlarge The lawyer for Ross Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana Lopez, is claiming Lopez disclosed details about the alleged abuse to a neighbor under the impression her communications were protected by the attorney-client privilege. Lopez's neighbor, Ivory Madison, went to law school but is not a member of the bar. - EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Examiner file photo
  • The lawyer for Ross Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana Lopez, is claiming Lopez disclosed details about the alleged abuse to a neighbor under the impression her communications were protected by the attorney-client privilege. Lopez's neighbor, Ivory Madison, went to law school but is not a member of the bar.

If someone lies to you and says, “Hey, I’m an attorney. Now you’re my client and everything you tell me is privileged,” does that make it so? That’s the question I want to answer now that Cheryl Wallace, lawyer for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, is claiming that Lopez disclosed details about the abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of Mirkarimi to neighbor Ivory Madison under the impression that her communications were protected by the attorney-client privilege.

Madison, who reported the alleged abuse, graduated from law school, but is not a member of the bar and is thus not a “real” lawyer.

If Lopez is successful on this claim, any number of texts and emails to Madison and even the infamous video of Lopez describing the alleged abuse to Madison could be withheld from the jury.

Pouring one’s heart out to someone who is not actually a lawyer can’t command the attorney-client privilege, can it? That’s the question I posed to Russ Roeca, former president of the San Francisco Bar Association who specializes in litigating matters of legal ethics and malpractice.

“If Lopez can prove that she reasonably believed that Madison was a lawyer and that her confidences would be protected when she made them, the privilege could attach,” he explained, much to my amazement.

“Would Madison admit to lying about being a lawyer?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Roeca said. “Impersonating a lawyer is punishable by up to a year in jail and a thousand-dollar fine.”

Basically, we can look forward to a fight over what Madison said to Lopez and vice versa to determine whether Lopez thought she was protected by the privilege. Perhaps Lopez believed that simply graduating from law school was enough to make Madison a lawyer, cloaking every communication with confidentiality.

Even if the judge finds that Lopez’s communications are protected by the attorney-client privilege, there is an exception to the privilege where a lawyer (including a person who just seems to be a lawyer) “reasonably believes that disclosure of any confidential communication relating to representation of a client is necessary to prevent a criminal act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in the death of, or substantial bodily harm to, an individual.”

At any rate, depending on what Lopez says, Madison could later face charges of practicing law without a license, so I hope Madison has retained a lawyer of her own. I’m crossing my fingers for Gloria Allred.

Bizarre Newt should move to bizarre SF

I was born and raised in Cobb County, Ga., where then-Rep. Newt Gingrich’s history lectures on “Renewing American Civilization” were available on public access. In that class, “Perfesser” Gingrich famously said that women are unfit for combat because “females have biological problems staying in a ditch for 30 days because they get infections” and that women are better at desk jobs because “men are biologically driven to go out and hunt giraffes.” His bizarre understanding of reality was apparent even then.

And now, whether it’s his, er … “nontraditional” approach to relationships, his plan to make the moon America’s 51st state, or his approval of a scheme to light up our roads and fight crime by positioning mirrors in space, this man clearly has a Ph.D in Strange from the University of Egomania.

Which is why I believe Newt Gingrich is planning to move to San Francisco. Just the other day, he said on the “Today Show” that Rep. Nancy Pelosi “lives in a San Francisco environment of strange fantasies and strange understandings of reality.”

And who loves such an environment more enthusiastically than Gingrich? Declaring a place to be fantastical appears to be his highest compliment.

He’ll be campaigning in the Bay Area on Feb. 15 and 16. Don’t be surprised if you see Newt and a few ladies checking out real estate on planet San Francisco.

Brevity most effective in Board of Supervisors appeals

Concerned citizens are often moved to send long letters to members of our Board of Supervisors, but sometimes brevity is also effective.

The board recently considered two appeals of the America’s Cup environmental impact report. That report must be in place in order to get going on projects to facilitate the race, set to be held here next year. The board rejected the appeals and approved the EIR (though they haven’t voted yet on whether to provide critical city funding to the effort.)

The question of whether to approve the EIR prompted a wonderfully pithy email from one city resident to the entire board with the subject “Please Approve America’s Cup EIR.” The message reads, in its entirety:

“Please, please, please don’t screw this up.”

Thank you for writing our prayer, sir.

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Melissa Griffin

Melissa Griffin

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