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L.J. v. J.B.

Decided: May 20, 1977.

L.J., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
J.B., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



Fritz, Ard and Pressler.

Per Curiam

Plaintiff filed a complaint pursuant to N.J.S.A. 9:16-2 et seq. in the Belleville Municipal Court for support of her child born out of wedlock. Upon being determined the father of the child, defendant appealed to the County Court pursuant to R. 5:5-9(f). Thereafter, in a de novo jury trial, a verdict was returned in favor of defendant holding that he is not the father of the child. Plaintiff appeals.

The primary question on appeal is whether the trial judge permitted testimony which violated plaintiff's attorney-client privilege. There was no objection below, and it is now urged that the alleged error is of such magnitude as to constitute plain error. R. 2:10-2.

In the course of presenting his defense defendant called Frank Salsano, a welfare department employee, who testified

that he had interviewed plaintiff on January 22, 1976 and that in response to his questioning she advised him that March 21, 1975 was the only time she had had intercourse with defendant. This testimony was produced to impeach plaintiff's testimony which alleged intercourse on several occasions, and also to suggest an inconsistency with the testimony of defendant's fellow police officer, Fred Mitchell, who had accounted for the activities of defendant on March 21, 1975.

Although there was no objection to Salsano's testimony at the time he testified, plaintiff now asserts Salsano's testimony was privileged and its admission plain error.

We disagree. It is only communications between the lawyer*fn1 and the client that are privileged. The lawyer-client privilege is covered by Evid. R. 26. In pertinent part the rule is as follows:

(1) General rule. Subject to Rule 37 and except as otherwise provided by paragraph 2 of this rule communications between lawyer and his client in the course of that relationship and in professional confidence, are privileged, and a client has a privilege (a) to refuse to disclose any such communication, and (b) to prevent his lawyer from disclosing it, and (c) to prevent any other witness from disclosing such communication if it came to the knowledge of such witness (i) in the course of its transmittal between the client and the lawyer, or (ii) in a manner not reasonably to be anticipated, or (iii) as a result of a breach of the lawyer-client relationship, or (iv) in the course of a recognized confidential or privileged communication between the client and such witness. The privilege shall be claimed by the lawyer unless otherwise instructed by the client or his representative; the privilege may be claimed by the client in person, or if incompetent or deceased, by his guardian or personal representative. * * *

(3) Definitions. As used in this rule (a) "client" means a person or corporation or other association that, directly or through an authorized representative, consults a lawyer or the lawyer's representative for the purpose of retaining the lawyer or securing legal

service or advice from him in his professional capacity; * * * (b) "lawyer" means a person authorized, or reasonably believed by the client to be authorized to practice law in any State or nation the law of which recognizes a privilege against disclosure of confidential communications between client and lawyer. * * *

For a communication to be protected under Evid. R. 26 it must have been made in confidence between a lawyer and a client in the course of the professional relationship. Just as lawyers are forbidden to violate a professional confidence, so are the agents of a lawyer who engage in communications with the client. However, whether the communication be made to the lawyer or his agent, the sine qua non of the privilege is that the client has consulted the lawyer in the latter's capacity as an attorney. See Hansen v. Janitschek , 31 N.J. 545 ...


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