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BOSTON � A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision ruled that the state’s public records law does not negate the attorney-client privilege protections of public officers, employees and governmental entities. In the July 13 decision, Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall wrote that not all documents kept or made by governmental agencies are part of a “public record.” “The attorney-client privilege is a fundamental component of the administration of justice,” Marshall wrote. “Nothing in the language or history of the public records law, or in our prior decisions, leads us to conclude that the Legislature intended the public records law to abrogate the privilege for those subject to the statute.” Suffolk Construction Co. Inc. v. Division of Capital Asset Management, SJC-09733 (Mass.) Marshall also remanded the case to back to Superior Court. A dispute about court construction payment costs sparked the lower court case after the state’s Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance denied documents requested by general contractor Suffolk Construction Co. Inc. The agency provided Suffolk, which renovated Boston’s John Adams Courthouse � which is the seat of the Supreme Judicial Court � with about one-half million pages of documents and an index of withheld documents, including some not released due to attorney-client privilege issues. Suffolk filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. The lower court judge reported the question of law to the state’s Appeals Court. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said in a statement that she’s pleased with the court’s “clear statement” that legal advice to public officials is protected by the attorney-client privilege. “A lawyer can only function when she receives complete and candid information from her client, and this is no less true when the client happens to be a state agency or a municipality,” Coakley said. “As the court recognized, government functions best when legal questions can be debated robustly.” Noting the court’s statement that “public officials seeking the protection of the attorney-client privilege are required to produce detailed indices to support their claims of privilege,” Suffolk Construction’s lawyer Christopher Morog of Boston’s Hinckley Allen Snyder said not all documents would be privileged. “We intend now to request a full review of those documents which, in our view, are not subject to a claim of privilege and are glad the court has provided all parties with the necessary guidance to carry out that task,” Morog said.

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