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Camilli v. Township of Deptford

March 2, 1999

ANNEMARIE CAMILLI, AN INDIVIDUAL AND SHIRLEY HERBERT, AN INDIVIDUAL,
PLAINTIFFS,
V.
TOWNSHIP OF DEPTFORD, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, AND MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE TOWNSHIP OF DEPTFORD, INDIVIDUALS,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert B. Kugler United States Magistrate Judge

CAMDEN VICINAGE

HONORABLE STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY

OPINION

KUGLER, United States Magistrate Judge

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for a protective order prohibiting Plaintiffs from introducing into evidence a letter dated September 22, 1995 from Gary F. Stowell, Esquire, to Bradley Blubaugh. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is denied.

Background

Plaintiffs allege in their complaint that they were employed by the Township of Deptford in various positions. Camilli v. Township of Deptford, Civ. No. 97-212, slip op. at 2 (D.N.J. July 22, 1998). In November, 1995 the Township promoted Plaintiff Shirley Herbert to the position of Municipal Court Administrator and at the same time promoted Annemarie Camilli to the position of Deputy Municipal Court Administrator. See Plaintiffs' Brief in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Suppress Certain Evidence Produced by Plaintiffs ("Plaintiffs' Opposition"), Attachment 1 at ¶ 12. According to Plaintiffs, in January, 1996 the Township named Dawn Schocklin as Municipal Court Administrator and demoted Plaintiffs in retaliation for their political beliefs. See id. at ¶ 19. Plaintiffs complaint alleges that the Township's actions violate, among other things, their First Amendment rights, as well as their rights to equal protection of the law and due process. See Camilli, slip op. at 2.

In their present motion, Defendants seek a protective order prohibiting Plaintiffs from introducing into evidence a letter in Plaintiffs possession written by a former special prosecutor hired by the Township in 1995 to bring administrative proceedings against two Deptford Township police officers. See Defendants' Brief in Support of Motion to Suppress Certain Evidence Produced by Plaintiffs ("Defendants' Brief") at 7. Defendants claim that the letter is protected by the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine.

The author of the letter, Gary F. Stowell, Esquire, was hired by the Township in 1995 to represent the Township in administrative proceedings against two Deptford police officers. See id. at 1. Apparently during the course of that administrative proceeding, the defendant police officers produced to Mr. Stowell a voided traffic summons, which the initials of a court clerk named Dawn Schocklin. See id. During the course of his prosecution of the administrative proceedings against the officers, Mr. Stowell discovered that another Township employee, Dawn Schocklin, allegedly had been involved in a traffic ticket "fixing" scheme in which she would void summonses to the municipal court without first receiving the approval of the municipal court judge. See Plaintiffs' Opposition at 1; Certification of Mark Cimino, Esquire, filed in support of Plaintiffs' Opposition ("Cimino Cert.") at Exhibits C-G. By letter dated September 22, 1995, Mr. Stowell forwarded this information to the Township Manager, Bradley Blubaugh. See Defendants' Brief at 1 and Exhibit A. Defendants believe that the letter was produced to Plaintiffs in this action by either Mr. Stowell or Mr. Blubaugh. See id. at 1. Defendants claim that the September 22, 1995 letter is protected by the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiffs already have the document in their possession. *fn1

Discussion

Pursuant to Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party seeking a protective order bears the burden of demonstrating good cause to preclude or limit discovery. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(c). The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has elaborated on the applicable standard applied to protective orders: Rule 26(c) places the burden of persuasion on the party seeking the protective order. To overcome the presumption [in favor of discovery], the party seeking the protective order must show good cause by demonstrating a particular need for protection. Broad allegations of harm, unsubstantiated by specific examples or articulated reasoning, do not satisfy the Rule 26(c) test. [citations omitted.] Moreover, the harm must be significant, not a mere trifle. Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1121 (3d Cir. 1986).

Additionally, the burden of establishing the existence of a privilege falls on the party asserting the privilege. In re Bevill, Bresler & Schulman Asset Management Corp., 805 F.2d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1986). In this instance, Defendants have the burden of establishing the existence of an applicable privilege or protection. Since the claims in this action arise under federal law, the Court shall apply federal common law to Defendants' claims of privilege. *fn2

Because privileges obstruct the search for truth by shielding from discovery otherwise relevant information, privileges are disfavored in the law. See In re Grand Jury Subpoena Duces Tecum, 112 F.3d 910, 918 (8th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). The Court will analyze Defendants' claims of privilege with these considerations in mind.

Defendants assert both attorney-client and work product protection for the September 22, 1995 letter. The attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine both protect from disclosure certain documents and communications between attorneys and their clients. However, the doctrines provide protection under separate ...


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