“Attorney’s Eyes Only”

Court orders imposing “attorney’s eyes only” discovery restrictions do not disrupt the attorney-client relationship or contradict an attorney’s ethical duty to keep clients informed, according to the District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The issue before the court arose in a trademark infringement action, in which the plaintiff contended that an “attorney’s eyes only” order, requiring an attorney to withhold discovery material from a client, contradicts an attorney’s duty to keep his clients informed and creates “an unnecessary level of secrecy.” However, the court reinforced attorneys’ “professional obligation to obey a court order imposing ‘eyes only’ limitation,” in holding that such a protective order does not conflict with Florida Rule of Professional Conduct 4-1.4, which requires an attorney to communicate with his client so that the client is reasonably informed about his case.

In reaching its holding, the court reviewed the language of Rule 4-1.4 and concluded the rule does not impose an absolute obligation on the attorney to disclose every matter to a client. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman found Rule 4-1.4 to be applicable only to reasonable disclosures and noted the use of reasonable several times within the rule .

Moreover, the court highlighted that the comments to Rule 4-1.4 specifically recognize the permissibility of protective order in litigation, which would include an “attorney’s eyes only” provision. (Rule 4-1.4’s comment refers to Rule 4-3.4(c), which requires attorneys not to “knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal.”)

The opinion recognizes that protective orders with an “Attorney’s Eyes Only” provision “agreements are widely accepted in Florida” and notes that several jurisdictions are in accord.

To read the full opinion, click here.







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