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Correspondence between NY State Prisoners and Disability Advocates Inc. Held to be Privileged and Non-Discoverable

In December 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York granted a protective order filed by Disability Advocates, Inc. (DAI), the plaintiff in a civil action against the New York State Office of Mental Health, protecting DAI from having to disclose to the defendants correspondence it received from New York State prisoners complaining about conditions and practices which they believe violate the law.

After examining a sampling of the correspondence in question, the Court deemed it to be "classic attorney—client privileged communication." It found it "difficult to see how these letters -- which mostly raise claims of abuse and neglect by prison authorities -- could possibly be of any affirmative use to the defendants."

Despite the fact that DAI was serving a dual role as a legal service provider, on the one hand, and as an advocacy organization (the actual plaintiff in the case before the Court), on the other hand -- as both lawyer and client, in other words -- the Court found no basis to conclude that the privilege of confidential communication -- a privilege held by the prisoners, not DAI -- had been waived or forfeited. Source: Disability Advocates Inc. v. New York State Office of Mental Health, Case No. 02 Civ. 4002 (GEL) (U.S.D.C., S.D.N.Y., 2004).

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Related legal case

Disability Advocates Inc. v. New York State Office of Mental Health