Who Is Talking To Your Clients?

If you have ever tried to get the personal address of an FBI agent in an ongoing criminal case, you know what futility means. This sort of information is kept confidential. It is personal, off limits, and even asking for the addresses will yield a storm of consternation. I used to accept that as part of the process.

But then I learned that federal agents are now working through a list of clients represented by a Connecticut lawyer. Most of those interviewed are former clients. But, ominously, some of those interviewed are current clients. This intelligence shocks me, and suggests a bold new aggressiveness on the part of federal agents.

The interviews are taking place as part of a federal investigation of whether a Waterbury defense lawyer, Martin Minnella, has developed too close a relationship with a prosecutor, State's Attorney John Connelly of Waterbury. (Disclosure time: I represent Minnella.) The focus of the investigation seems to be whether Connelly received gifts and/or other things of value in exchange for favorable consideration of Minnella's cases.

So agents have been active in the state's prisons and residential neighborhoods. They are asking clients why they chose Minnella, how much they paid him, how they paid him, and whether he offered them assurances of an outcome. Some of these questions are clearly privileged, so I would like to think that the agents are reminding people that the attorney-client privilege is theirs to waive. But I suspect agents aren't so fastidious. Odds are, they are bulldozing their way into people's lives, trying sugar first, and resorting to spice when sweetness fails.

This is the first time I have become aware of federal agents systematically working their way down a list of a lawyer's clients, and I find the practice shocking. I sat next to the incoming president of the Connecticut Criminal Defense Lawyers Association the other day, Jennifer Zito. I urged her to action. I called the president of a sister organization and urged him on, too. Folks don't seem to be as shocked by this as I am.

Perhaps I am naive. But it seems to me that granting agents easy access to clients and former clients is over the line. I can understand an interview if a client reaches out to the feds, but permitting the feds to fish in our own backyards without so much as a protest is giving up too much without a fight.

Do you know whether the feds have been to your client's cell or home lately? Do you care? Is the defense bar asleep at their desks? Or are we all so busy being buddies with the government these days that these things don't matter?

Question: Do you know the home addresses of the agents working your client's case? How do you suppose those agents would react if your investigator turned up at their home some night to ask questions about their conversations with the prosecutor?


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© Norm Pattis is represented by Elite Lawyer Management, managing agents for Exceptional American Lawyers
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