John Oxendine
John Oxendine (File Photo)

Attorney and former Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine, fighting a state ethics investigation tied to his 2010 run for governor, has asked a judge to quash a subpoena seeking his law firm‘s financial records.

Oxendine’s Aug. 29 petition in Fulton County Superior Court said the records are protected by attorney-client confidentiality and that many of his firm’s clients are “regulated entities in the insurance and/or healthcare arena” who “often do not want the fact that they have hired a well-known regulatory and healthcare law firm as a matter of public record.”

The subpoena should raise an alarm for attorneys, Oxendine said in an interview.

“You have a situation where the commission has a dispute with me as a former candidate—that will be resolved in its own time—but they have not raised any allegation against the law firm,” Oxendine said.

The records sought “clearly contain confidential information that is protected by attorney-client privilege,” Oxendine said. “I cannot imagine any judge allowing someone to just rummage through the financial records a law firm keeps and violate one of the most fundamental rights available to attorneys and their clients.”

The long-running investigation stems from allegations that two insurance companies illegally contributed $120,000 to Oxendine’s campaign. The investigation later expanded to include allegations he failed to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in leftover campaign funds and invested some of the money in his law practice.

Oxendine served as insurance commissioner from 1994 until leaving office after he lost the Republican gubernatorial primary. He has since overseen The Oxendine Group, which touts his experience in insurance and regulatory affairs.

The ethics commission subpoenaed BB&T on July 28 seeking all records related to Oxendine’s firm from Jan. 1, 2013, to March 31, 2016, including those from its trust account.

Oxendine, in fighting the subpoena, said his firm “engages in very little litigation, therefore the identity of its clients is rarely a matter of public record.”

“Simply by making public the fact that a regulated insurance of healthcare client has retained [Oxendine's firm], it will then become public that the particular client has an actual, or potential, regulatory or healthcare issues,” Oxendine said in court documents.

The subpoena “would not only unmask the identity of the law firm’s client list, it would also divulge detailed information regarding the exact amounts of money paid to the law firm. Most clients wish to keep this information private and confidential, and all clients have a [legal right] to keep this information private and confidential.”

Oxendine argues that state and federal law safeguard his clients’ right to privacy and that Georgia bar rules require “all information gained in the professional relationship” to be held in confidence. Allowing it to be divulged “would set a precedent to destroy the concept of attorney-client confidentiality.”

The commission is “extremely overreaching to the point of harassment,” Oxendine said. “I think the state should be ashamed of itself.”

The day before Oxendine filed his motion, his attorney, Chalmers Pak Burch & Adams partner Douglas Chalmers Jr., also filed a motion to quash the subpoena and a request for a protective order, arguing among other things that the commission did not follow the law in launching the investigation.

The action is the second challenge Oxendine and Chalmers have raised on the commission’s authority to pursue the investigation. A similar bid to derail the investigation filed last year was denied by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk, and in June the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed the investigation could proceed.

That ruling has been appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Chalmers declined to discuss the case.

The commission’s executive director, Stefan Ritter, did not respond to a query, and the office of Attorney General Chris Carr declined to comment.