SEC Suit Against Covington & Burling Threatens More Than Attorney-Client Privileged Information

Yesterday, I wrote about the Securities and Exchange Commission's attempt to force the prominent law firm of Covington & Burling LLP to "name names".  In some discussions about the case, some have assumed that the concern is about information protected by the attorney-client privilege.  As noted in yesterday's post, the SEC is asserting that disclosure is permitted by the rules of the District of Columbia bar.  However, it is unclear to me why statutes and rules of others states might not be implicated inasmuch as the law firm has offices in other jurisdictions, including California.  

In California, an attorney's duty to maintain confidences is not limited to communications protected by the attorney-client privilege.  The State Bar Act requires preservation of a client's secrets, i.e., any information gained in the course of the professional relationship, whether or not received from the client, that may be embarrassing or detrimental to the client or for which the client has requested confidentiality.  Cal. State Bar Formal Opinions, 1993-133, 1988-96, & 1986-87.  For example, the California Supreme Court imposed discipline on an attorney who disclosed in a declaration his client's concern that her husband had carried on an affair with her sister.  Dixon v. State Bar, 653 P.2d 321, 325 (Cal. App. 1982).