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Sotomayor’s first opinion rejects attorney-client privilege argument

The first full opinion handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court this term came from its newest jurist, Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The unanimous ruling in Mohawk Industries Inc. v. Carpenter held that litigants have no immediate right to appeal orders to compel documents based on a claim of attorney-client privilege under the collateral order doctrine.

In so ruling, Sotomayor stressed the importance of the attorney-client privilege to the judicial system, but said that importance was not outweighed by the interest of awaiting a final verdict before allowing appeals.

In addition, Sotomayor pointed out that there are other remedies for parties wishing to minimize the damage caused by disclosing privileged information, such as asking a court to certify an interlocutory appeal, asking for post-judgment review, or violating the disclosure order and being held in contempt and/or facing sanctions. “The party can then appeal directly from that ruling, at least when the contempt citation can be characterized as criminal punishment,” Sotomayor explained in the opinion.

More on that case later on Lawyers USA online.

The Court also handed down three other opinions, In Alvarez v. Smith the Court, as it hinted strongly that it would, vacated as moot a case asking whether the Chicago police department’s practice of seizing property related to drug activity without a probable cause hearing is unconstitutional.

In, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, the Court held that the National Railroad Adjustment Board had jurisdiction to hear employees’ arbitration claims under the Railroad Labor Act.

And in Beard v. Kindler the Court held that an escaped felon cannot later reinstate post-verdict motions he filed before escaping custody by claiming that the state grounds supporting the judgment were inadequate.

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