American Bar Association Opposes New Sentencing Rules

The U.S. Sentencing Commission's plan to reward wayward companies for giving up private legal documents to prosecutors does not have the support of the American Bar Association.

On Tuesday, the ABA voted to contest the proposed new sentencing rules that will take effect in November, unless Congress intervenes. They were approved this spring by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, among changes intended to crack down on corporate wrongdoing, the Associated Press reported.

ABA's policy-making body says the problem is that companies would have to give up the traditional guarantee that conversations and paperwork between lawyers and clients will remain secret, the AP reported, adding that the revisions were in part a response to recent financial scandals.

Houston attorney Allan Van Fleet told ABA leaders that employees who talk to company lawyers, believing the conversations will be kept private, would be the ones ultimately hurt by the rules intended to show a company is cooperating, the AP reported.

"This is just plain bad policy," Van Fleet, a partner with law firm Vinson & Elkins, told the AP.

According to the ABA, attorney-client privilege encourages frank communication between attorneys and their clients, and any information revealed could be used in civil lawsuits against companies.

"An incentive structure that dissuades companies from coming forward will hurt the government's efforts to detect and prosecute criminal violations," the report said.

Some ABA members who support the new rules don't think it should be too much to expect company executives to promptly report problems.

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