De Novo Standard Applies To Contempt For Failure To Produce Privileged Documents

Center Partners v. Growth Head grew out of a complex asset purchase agreement. The question in this opinion concerned whether Westfield, one of the parties involved in the agreement, had waived the attorney-client privilege during negotiations and had to produce documents in connection with the waived subject.

The trial court ruled that Westfield had waived the privilege and had to produce some 1,500 documents that otherwise were subject to the attorney-client privilege. Westfield refused to produce the records, so the trial court held Westfield in contempt.

Westfield appealed the contempt order. The first question was the proper standard of review. Contempt orders generally are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. But the First District Illinois Appellate Court applied a de novo standard [trial court decision gets no discretion]. This case was different than the typical contempt appeal “because a trial court lacks the discretion to compel the disclosure of privileged information, [so] we apply a de novo standard of review in determining the applicability of the attorney-client privilege.”

In the end, the court appellate court ruled that the privilege had been waived. Read the whole case, Center Partners v. Growth Head, 2011 IL App (1st) 11038, by clicking here.

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