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Sandra T.E. v. South Berwyn School District 100
United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
600 F.3d 612 (2010)
Elementary-school band teacher Robert Sperlik Jr. sexually abused numerous students. Sperlik eventually confessed and went to prison. Some victims told police they had reported Sperlik’s abuse to the school principal but she failed to take appropriate action. Sandra T.E. and other victims and their families (plaintiffs) sued former principal Karen Grindle and the South Berwyn School District 100 (defendants). The school board retained law firm Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an internal investigation. The engagement letter specified that the board hired Sidley to “investigate the response of the school administration to allegations of sexual abuse of students” and “provide legal services in connection with the specific representation.” Sidley partner and former U.S. attorney Scott Lassar spearheaded the investigation. Sidley attorneys interviewed multiple people but did not record the interviews and warned that the interviews were privileged. The attorneys took notes and prepared memoranda, then delivered an oral report of the findings at a closed executive board session, followed by a written summary marked “Privileged and Confidential,” “Attorney-Client Communication,” and “Attorney Work Product.” The report concluded Sidley’s engagement, and the school board retained other lawyers to represent it for the rest of the litigation. Over a year later, the claimants launched a discovery effort to compel Sidley to produce the contents of its investigation. They subpoenaed Lassar for deposition and to produce all documents in the firm’s possession relating to its work for the school board. Sidley produced some documents but withheld all notes and memos from the interviews and investigation. The judge concluded that Lassar was acting as an investigator, not an attorney, rejected Sidley’s attorney-client privilege and work-product claims, and ordered the firm to produce the materials. Sidley and the school board appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Sykes, J.)
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