How Private Are Your Emails in California?

January 26, 2011, by Thomas Lewellyn

emails.jpegWhen you send out an email to a friend, your spouse, or even your lawyer, who has the right to see those emails? These emails may not be as confidential as you think.

In a recent California appellate case, Holmes v Petrovich Development Co., an employee sued her employer for sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. While working for the employer, she sent email to her attorney about the circumstances of her case. Normally, communications with your lawyer are protected by the attorney client privilege. That is what the employee claimed in this case. However, since her emails were from the company's computer, and the company had an express policy that such emails were not confidential, the court ruled that the emails to her attorney were not protected. It noted that if the same emails had been sent from her home computer, the communications would have been protected.

In another case, a corporation was held to waive its attorney client privilege when it distributed its emails intended for its attorneys to many different sources who were not attorneys (Muro v Target, 2007).

As an attorney representing personal injury victims in the Oakland and Alameda area, I am concerned about privacy issues such as this and the use of the internet in general. We seem to be losing our privacy bite by bite, and as the internet expands it will only worsen. The teaching point here, however, is to never communicate with your lawyer by email unless it is from your own personal computer, and certainly not the computer at work.

Resource:

California Court of Appeal Decision, Holmes v Petrovich Development Co., January 13, 2011

Muro v Target, November, 2007