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Attorney-Client Relationships When You Don't Represent a Client

U.S. v. Costanzo, 625 F.2d 465 (D.N.J., 1980)

3d Cir.  Underlying Criminal Defense (Attorney-Client Relationship and Duty of Confidentiality) 

Student Contributor: Maninder (Meena) Saini

Facts: Defendant (Costanzo), a government informant, was convicted of conspiracy to possess and possession of stolen checks. In the past, the defendant was represented by attorney (Frank Paglianite) on various civil and criminal matters. Additionally, the defendant consulted Paglianite on numerous illegal activities. Paglianite even arranged for the defendant’s bail after his arrest on the instant matter. The defendant retained another attorney to represent him with the conspiracy charge because Paglianite had a conflict of interest in this matter. The defendant alleged that he discussed trial strategies and tactics with Paglianite during the trial proceeding in which Paglianite relayed that information to F.B.I. agents. The defendant claimed that Paglianite was an informant of the F.B.I during the course of their relationship. Defendant appealed from an order of the district court denying both his motions for a new trial and to vacate the sentence he was then-currently serving. The Appeals Court remanded for an evidentiary hearing as to defendant’s claim of a Sixth Amendment violation.

Issue: Did the defendant make disclosures to Paglianite in his capacity as attorney-adviser with the expectation that it was confidential?

Ruling: The  court held that the fact the attorney was not representing defendant in the instant action does not preclude a finding that an attorney-client relationship existed. A relationship between an attorney and client does not need a payment of fee or a formal contract to be formed. The relationship can be formed implicitly, and any communications are privileged when they concern legal advice of any kind sought from an attorney in such capacity.

Lesson:  The question of whether a person is a client or not is crucial to the issue of what duties the lawyer owes to that person. A relationship can form when the clients seeks legal advice from a lawyer in a professional capacity. Attorneys have an ethical duty of confidentiality not to disclose information received from clients.  The rule of confidentiality is to encourage clients to fully and truthfully disclose information relevant to their case. Attorneys cannot take that information and relay it to others for their disadvantage without impeding their role and the administration of justice.

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Posted in: Duties: Confidentiality, Federal, Scope of Representation