Attorney-Client Privilege Doesn’t Apply to Threats, Court Rules

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Grimes County Courthouse, Anderson, Tx . Photo by Patrick Feller via Flickr

Attorney-client privilege is one of the sacrosanct elements of the U.S. criminal justice system and many others. But, it doesn’t protect clients who make threats, according to a ruling this month by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

The ruling stems from a case involving Robert Ivers, a man from North Dakota convicted in September 2018 for saying the following to his lawyers over a phone call: “You don’t know the 50 different ways I planned to kill her,” reports the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal.

In the phone call, Ivers was referring to U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of St. Paul, Mn.

The appeals court’s July 23rd ruling upheld Ivers’ conviction on charges of threatening to murder a federal judge and interstate transmission of a threat to injure another individual.

Wright ruled against Ivers in a case involving an insurance dispute. Shortly thereafter, Ivers mailed court materials and written notes to Wright.

One note read: “I am sick and tired of this f***ing bulls**t!”

Another: “I will not negotiate!!!”

Still another: “I am becoming a very dangerous person!!!”

Wright allowed one of Ivers’ claims to go to trial, which he lost. After the trial, Ivers reportedly told multiple people he was a “walking bomb.”

When deputy marshals visited Ivers’ home, he confirmed that was a “ticking time bomb.”

He added that if someone is scared for their life, that is “too f***ing bad…It’s what they deserve.”

Ivers then filed a second lawsuit against the insurance company. His new lawyers told him that based on Wright’s previous rulings, he would likely lose the suit.

In response, Ivers uttered the statement about the many ways in which he planned to murder the judge.

Ivers’ lawyers reported the incident. When deputy marshals again visited Ivers’ home, he refused to retract his statements.

In its opinion, the appeals court wrote that Ivers’ statements, particularly the one about killing Wright, “undoubtedly threatened the life of a federal judge and were in no way necessary to further his civil lawsuit or made in order to obtain guidance in filing an amended complaint.”

“For these reasons, it is clear that the statements at issue were not for the purpose of obtaining legal advice about his pending lawsuit against an insurance company and are not protected by the attorney-client privilege,” wrote the opinion.

The court also rejected Ivers’ argument that he could not be convicted for threatening to murder a judge unless he meant for his language to constitute a threat.

A former lawyer of Ivers said he is likely to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

The ruling comes in the wake of several cases in which judges have been the target of violent threats.

Earlier this month, a lawyer shot the son of a New Jersey federal judge whom he had subjected to violent tirades, before killing himself.

This summary was prepared by TCR News Intern Michael Gelb.

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