Title IX: Fair Campus, Foul Weather

Or, maybe not.

With Education Secretary Betsey Devos much in the news  over possible changes to the Dear Colleague letter promulgated by the DOE’s Office of Civil Rights, this note by me and my Lightfoot colleagues  Brandon Essig and Clint Speegle in University Business is timely:

High-profile lawsuits, OCR investigations and new congressional legislative interest have all conspired to mean that colleges and universities ignore the Dear Colleague situation to their peril. Unlike the disciplinary process for a cheating scandal, the resolution of a sexual assault case is a classic “parallel-proceedings” scenario.

At any moment there may be an administrative proceeding (by the university), as well as a criminal investigation (by external law enforcement) and potential civil lawsuits by either the accuser or the respondent. In the university disciplinary context, parallel proceedings raise at least two often troubling—and sometimes disastrous—special issues.

Read the full article here.

More articles by Sharman. Thank goodness.

We have written extensively before about Title IX here.  It’s a topic not likely to go away soon.


The Yates Memo and Three Dog Night

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Deputy Attorney General Yates

Unless you have been on a monastic retreat or hidden as carefully as Hillary Clinton’s email server, you have by now likely read reports and analyses of the “Yates Memorandum,” a policy document issued by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates entitled “Individual Accountability for Corporate Wrongdoing.”

(Here is the document:  Yates-Memo-Prosecution-of-Individuals.pdf ).

In this essay, I focus on one particular aspect that may be crucial for companies, their boards of directors, their audit committees and law department: The timing of potential disclosures to the Government and the degree to which outside counsel needs to have comfort that what he or she is relating to the Government on the company’s behalf is more or less reliable.

The Yates Memo sets out six principles that the Department of Justice intends to apply in a renewed (or apparently renewed) emphasis on the prosecution of individuals in the context of the investigation of corporate wrongdoing.

The key summary paragraph is as follows:

The guidance in this memo reflects six key steps to strengthen our pursuit of individual corporate wrongdoing, some of which reflect policy shifts and each of which is described in greater detail below: (1) in order to qualify for any cooperation credit, corporations must provide to the Department all relevant facts relating to the individuals responsible for the misconduct; (2) criminal and civil corporate investigations should focus on individuals from the inception of the investigation; (3) criminal and civil attorneys handling corporate investigations should be in routine communication with one another; (4) absent extraordinary circumstances or approved departmental policy, the Department will not release culpable individuals from civil or criminal liability when resolving a matter with a corporation; (5) Department attorneys should not resolve matters with a corporation without a clear plan to resolve related individual cases, and should memorialize any declinations as to individuals in such cases; and (6) civil attorneys should consistently focus on individuals as well as the company and evaluate whether to bring suit against an individual based on considerations beyond that individual’s ability to pay.

There has been considerable criticism of DOJ from politicians, editorialists and judges (see the Southern District of New York’s Judge Jed Rakoff here and a note here and here about Judge William H. Pauley) over the paucity of individual prosecutions arising from the financial crisis.  Assuming that the memorandum is more than a simple public relations effort to deflect that criticism, a number of points come to mind.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

Difficult to keep calm, actually.

First, if implemented, the Yates Memo will cause more corporate officers and employees to lawyer up, and lawyer up earlier, then at any time since the savings and loan crisis.  As a white-collar and internal-investigations lawyer with looming college tuition to pay for, I have no objection to such an outcome, but it may actually make getting the facts out of an internal investigation more difficult, not less.

Second, the renewed focus on facts pertaining to individuals will potentially make it very uncomfortable for boards of directors, audit committees, chief legal officers and other decision-makers who will more frequently be tempted to throw company officers and employees under the bus than previously.  To cite Three Dog Night from their eponymous 1969 album, “one is the loneliest number.”

Third, although DOJ officials in speeches have said repeatedly that they are not trying to force corporate outside counsel to be police officers, there is more than a whiff of that impulse in the Yates Memo.  Such an approach raises multiple potential conflict of interest problems.

Civil discovery.  Criminal facts?

Civil discovery. Criminal facts?

Fourth, the focus on individual wrongdoing (and disclosure of facts relating to individual wrongdoing) is to apply equally in the civil arena. Companies and businesspeople have far more civil problems then criminal.  The ultimate effect of the Yates Memo may be felt most dangerously (and most expensively) in the civil context.

Fifth, it is unclear (at least to me) whether and to what extent the Yates Memo will require outside counsel conducting an internal investigation to modify a standard Upjohn instruction.  (We have previously discussed Upjohn warnings in these posts).  In other words, does company counsel need to add an explicit statement that, should the witness reveal facts about himself or herself that appear to be a reasonable basis of criminal liability (theirs or the company’s), the lawyer will probably tote those facts over to the Government?

As a practical matter for corporations and those who guide and advise them, as well as for lawyers who represent individual officers and employees, the most delicate task will be trying to figure out at what point in time does one pull the disclosure trigger with regard to evidence of individual wrongdoing.

In other words, when do you know what it is that you know? And, what if you make your early or premature disclosure to the Government but you are wrong?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's Office?

Off to college? Or, to a meeting at the U.S. Attorney’s Office?

As I write this, my daughter is a high school senior in the midst of college applications.  These applications come at the tail end of a lengthy period of campus visits, alumni interviews, webpage reading and prayer.  We have been diligent, and the process by turns exhilarating, disappointing and expensive.

What struck me is how different things look now than when we began.  At some point, one must “land the plane” – that is, make a decision – whether one is in the midst of a college search process or an internal corporate investigation.  Yet, had my daughter been forced to apply very early in the process to, say, what were her top five choices then, we would have been in an artificially different (and most likely more disadvantageous) situation from the one in which we find ourselves today.

The Yates Memo will put boards of directors, audit committees and chief legal officers is in a similar position of having to make a call unnaturally early in an internal investigation in hopes of reaping the harvest of cooperation.  As most anyone who is been through an internal investigation can attest, the factual landscape and legal conclusions are often different (but more accurate) late in the day.  The next months and years under the Yates Memo will tell, but it would be a shame if, in order to grasp at cooperation’s life jacket, American businesses and their legal advisers are put in a situation that helps neither the legitimate aims of Government prosecutions nor those companies’ shareholders and stakeholders.

SIDEBAR: In the context of governmental policy, it is easy to talk about the prosecution of individuals without putting a face (and a life) to a name.  With faceless defendants, we sometimes forget what investigations and trials can do to individuals and their families.

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

Tom Hayes and wife Sarah Tighe

In this five-part series in the Wall Street Journal, David Enrich lays out the prosecution of LIBOR trader Tom Hayes.  “The Unraveling of Tom Hayes” bears a careful read.

 


Title IX, University Discipline, Sexual Assault and Parallel Proceedings

A short — 140 seconds — note on the thickets of Title IX, sexual assault, university discipline and parallel procedures:

University Discipline, Sexual Assault and Parallel Proceedings from LFW on Vimeo.

It's the new campus thing.

It’s the new campus thing.

Here’s a longer written piece: Dear Colleagues All: University Discipline, Sexual Assault and The Department of Education

And, should anyone doubt the human costs involved in the mishandling of such investigations, one only need to recall disgraced prosecutor Mike Nifong and the Duke lacrosse case, as highlighted by Ed Bradley and 60 Minutes:


Get Out of Jail Free? Not Without The Attorney-Client Privilege

MonopolyWe have talked about attorney-client privilege, internal investigations and the GM ignition recall: Privilege, Corporate Silence and Saul Goodman,  How To Avoid Being GM’ed: The Wrongs and Rights of Clients and Lawyers and It’s Okay To Smell A Rat: Internal Investigations, Attorney-Client Privilege and the KBR Decision.

There was even a quote in Forbes.com: Of Snitches and Privileges.

And if you can’t get enough, now a short (16 minute) presentation to the Network of Trial Law Firms meeting in October:

How To Avoid Being GM’d from LFW on Vimeo.

 

 


Internal Investigations, the KBR Decision and International Investigations

Child of Upjohn

Child of Upjohn

In a recent post, we touched on the importance of the D.C. Circuit’s decision in KBR concerning privilege and internal investigations:

Post-recession, we are living through an era of regulators’ grimaces and prosecutors’ giddiness. Editorialists and bloggers want business scalps, especially scalps of individuals (as opposed to simple monetary fines for corporations), and most especially scalps of those in banking and finance.  In the wake of the GM report and other stories about lawyers, the role of business lawyers is as suspect in the public mind as it has been for decades.  It’s as though everybody smells a rat.

On the other hand, faced with ever-increasing and increasingly complex regulation, companies’ need to conduct self-reviews and internal investigations is unavoidable. Indeed, in many industries, the governing set of rules require companies to self-investigate and, under certain conditions, reveal those investigatory results to the Government.  This is especially the case if the company wishes to be seen as a good citizen and a cooperator. (We have discussed the ups and downs of cooperation here and here).

In this environment, it was refreshing to see the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc.

Skeptical of the role of lawyers.

Skeptical of the role of lawyers.

(Read the complete post at It’s Okay To Smell A Rat: Internal Investigations, Attorney-Client Privilege and the KBR Decision).

More recently, from our friends at the White Collar Crime Prof Blog, here and here are two good essays by Professor Lucian Dervan of Southern Illinois University on KBR, privilege and the implications for international internal investigations.


It’s Okay To Smell A Rat: Internal Investigations, Attorney-Client Privilege and the KBR Decision

Skeptical of the role of lawyers.

Skeptical of the role of lawyers.

Post-recession, we are living through an era of regulators’ grimaces and prosecutors’ giddiness. Editorialists and bloggers want business scalps, especially scalps of individuals (as opposed to simple monetary fines for corporations), and most especially scalps of those in banking and finance.  In the wake of the GM report and other stories about lawyers, the role of business lawyers is as suspect in the public mind as it has been for decades.  It’s as though everybody smells a rat.

On the other hand, faced with ever-increasing and increasingly complex regulation, companies’ need to conduct self-reviews and internal investigations is unavoidable. Indeed, in many industries, the governing set of rules require companies to self-investigate and, under certain conditions, reveal those investigatory results to the Government.  This is especially the case if the company wishes to be seen as a good citizen and a cooperator. (We have discussed the ups and downs of cooperation here and here).

In this environment, it was refreshing to see the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in In re Kellogg Brown & Root, Inc.  In KBR, the D.C. Circuit considered a district court’s denial of the protection of the attorney-client privilege to a company that conducted an internal investigation.
The district court based its decision in part on the ground that the internal investigation had been “undertaken pursuant to regulatory law and corporate policy rather than for the purpose of obtaining legal advice,” attempting to distinguish the ur-case in this area, Upjohn Co. v. United States, 449 U.S. 383 (1981)

 

Business people (and internal business-lawyers) wear many hats.  Some of the hats don’t fit neatly (or comfortably).  Many activities undertaken by corporations have multiple purposes: business, political, legal and otherwise.  If this view of internal-investigations law had been allowed to stand, it would be virtually impossible for a company subject to even the most rudimentary level of regulatory oversight to maintain its attorney-client privilege.

It is worth quoting the D.C. Circuit here at some length, given the clarity and forcefulness of the holding:
KBR’s assertion of the privilege in this case is materially indistinguishable from Upjohn’s assertion of the privilege in that case. As in Upjohn, KBR initiated an internal investigation to gather facts and ensure compliance with the law after being informed of potential misconduct. And as in Upjohn, KBR’s investigation was conducted under the auspices of KBR’s in-house legal department, acting in its legal capacity. The same considerations that led the Court in Upjohn to uphold the corporation’s privilege claims apply here.
The District Court in this case initially distinguished Upjohn on a variety of grounds. But none of those purported distinctions takes this case out from under Upjohn’s umbrella.
First, the District Court stated that in Upjohn the internal investigation began after in-house counsel conferred with outside counsel, whereas here the investigation was conducted in-house without consultation with outside lawyers. But Upjohn does not hold or imply that the involvement of outside counsel is a necessary predicate for the privilege to apply. On the contrary, the general rule, which this Court has adopted, is that a lawyer’s status as in-house counsel “does not dilute the privilege.” In re Sealed Case, 737 F.2d at 99. As the Restatement’s commentary points out, “Inside legal counsel to a corporation or similar organization . . . is fully empowered to engage in privileged communications.” 1 RESTATEMENT § 72, cmt. c, at 551.
Second, the District Court noted that in Upjohn the interviews were conducted by attorneys, whereas here many of the interviews in KBR’s investigation were conducted by non-attorneys. But the investigation here was conducted at the direction of the attorneys in KBR’s Law Department. And communications made by and to non-attorneys serving as agents of attorneys in internal investigations are routinely protected by the attorney-client privilege. See FTC v. TRW, Inc., 628 F.2d 207, 212 (D.C. Cir. 1980); see also 1 PAUL R. RICE, ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE IN THE UNITED STATES § 7:18, at 1230-31 (2013) (“If internal investigations are conducted by agents of the client at the behest of the attorney, they are protected by the attorney-client privilege to the same extent as they would be had they been conducted by the attorney who was consulted.”). So that fact, too, is not a basis on which to distinguish Upjohn.
Third, the District Court pointed out that in Upjohn the interviewed employees were expressly informed that the purpose of the interview was to assist the company in obtaining legal advice, whereas here they were not. The District Court further stated that the confidentiality agreements signed by KBR employees did not mention that the purpose of KBR’s investigation was to obtain legal advice. Yet nothing in Upjohn requires a company to use magic words to its employees in order to gain the benefit of the privilege for an internal investigation. And in any event, here as in Upjohn employees knew that the company’s legal department was conducting an investigation of a sensitive nature and that the information they disclosed would be protected. Cf. Upjohn, 449 U.S. at 387 (Upjohn’s managers were “instructed to treat the investigation as ‘highly confidential’”). KBR employees were also told not to discuss their interviews “without the specific advance authorization of KBR General Counsel.” United States ex rel. Barko v. Halliburton Co., No. 05-cv-1276, 2014 WL 1016784, at *3 n.33 (D.D.C. Mar. 6, 2014).
In short, none of those three distinctions of Upjohn holds water as a basis for denying KBR’s privilege claim.
More broadly and more importantly, the District Court also distinguished Upjohn on the ground that KBR’s internal investigation was undertaken to comply with Department of Defense regulations that require defense contractors such as KBR to maintain compliance programs and conduct internal investigations into allegations of potential wrongdoing. The District Court therefore concluded that the purpose of KBR’s internal investigation was to comply with those regulatory requirements rather than to obtain or provide legal advice. In our view, the District Court’s analysis rested on a false dichotomy. So long as obtaining or providing legal advice was one of the significant purposes of the internal investigation, the attorney-client privilege applies, even if there were also other purposes for the investigation and even if the investigation was mandated by regulation rather than simply an exercise of company discretion.
In the context of an organization’s internal investigation, if one of the significant purposes of the internal investigation was to obtain or provide legal advice, the privilege will apply. That is true regardless of whether an internal investigation was conducted pursuant to a company compliance program required by statute or regulation, or was otherwise conducted pursuant to company policy.

 

It is noteworthy that the D.C. Circuit clarifies the rule such that it applies in all contexts: civil, criminal and administrative.  The attorney-client privilege is, to some degree, in derogation of the search for the truth, at least in the first instance.  Yet, lawyers learn things from clients that the lawyers then do not have to reveal because we believe that, on balance, “truth” is ultimately best served in an adversarial system by a tool that encourages clients to tell their lawyers the truth.

This is an often overlooked point.  Frequently, clients do not tell lawyers the whole truth, at least the first time a discussion arises. This is particularly the case in criminal representations, but it is not uncommon in the civil arena.  Sometimes, this reticence arises from a client’s knowledge of his, her or its wrongdoing, and a concomitant desire to hide or destroy evidence.

More often, however, that initial reticence arises from much more innocuous sources: embarrassment, shame, misunderstanding, fear of losing a job or worry about how superiors or colleagues might react.  In those contexts, it is the privilege itself that is most solicitous of the truth, and allows the truth to eventually out.