City Fails to Redefine Attorney-Client Privilege In Spat With Fire Union
The state Attorney General's Office has shot down an argument from the Parker administration that twisted, in pretzel-like fashion, any common-sense understanding of the term "attorney-client privilege."
At issue is the city's refusal to turn over emails between former Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association president Bryan Sky-Eagle, who abruptly resigned from the post in September, and Mayor Annise Parker, City Attorney David Feldman, or Chief Policy Officer Janice Evans during Sky-Eagle's time leading the union. The union insists it's trying to rebuild after a year of failed contract negotiations and discord within its own ranks, but that it's still in the dark about much of what transpired during talks between Sky-Eagle and city officials.
Weeks before Sky-Eagle sent his resignation letter to union members on September 1 -- in which he cited "threats of, and calls for, violence against me, my wife and my children" he'd received via email and Facebook -- union leaders say he took his union-issued computer in his office to a local Altex store to wipe its hard drive. Police reports also show that Sky-Eagle claimed his other HPFFA-owned computer, a laptop, was stolen from his car months before his resignation.
Given the city's ongoing spat with both the union and firefighters pension fund, it should come as no shock that the Parker administration wasn't itching to hand this stuff over. But in appealing to the AG's office in October, the city attempted to justify withholding the emails by claiming some were covered by attorney-client privilege and therefore shouldn't be disclosed to a third party. Which begs the question: how exactly does one construe a conversation between a city attorney and a union president actively negotiating a contract on behalf of firefighters as an attorney-client relationship?
In an opinion sent to the city last week, the AG's office rejected the Parker administration's argument. At the time Sky-Eagle and city officials were corresponding, they "did not share a common interest that would allow the attorney-client privilege to apply," the ruling states. The ruling is a victory for the union, which has argued that since Sky-Eagle was, ostensibly, working in the interest of his union and the City Attorney's office was working in the interest of...well, the city, claiming attorney-client privilege simply defies logic.
HPFFA interim president Alvin W. White Jr. insists that Sky-Eagle's abrupt resignation, the purged computer data, and the Parker administration's brain-twisting interpretation of state open records law "all raised troubling questions."
In a statement issued Monday, White said the union is still trying to learn "what truly happened with Mr. Sky-Eagle and his undisclosed communications with a mayoral administration that is consistently hostile to firefighters."