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Homeowners have the right to inspect attorney invoices

March 29, 2009|Stephen Glassman and Donie Vanitzian

Question: I have repeatedly asked my association board for copies of attorney invoices, but the attorney wrote me saying that owners do not have the right to inspect individual invoices from the association's attorney because they frequently contain privileged information. Instead, invoices are reviewed by the board.

The letter said Smith vs. Laguna Sur Villas Community Assn. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 641 ruled on this. It continued that the association, through the board -- and not the owners -- is the client, and that "member inspection rights" do not extend to "documents subject to attorney-client privilege." Am I entitled to see the attorney invoices?

Answer: The amount of attorney invoices are not per se privileged, and nothing prevents the board from telling all owners how much was spent in attorney fees.

Legal costs should be a separate budget line item requiring a statement of exactly how much the association spent on such fees.

There is no prohibition on members' examining and copying the invoices of all vendors, including law firms and attorneys.

California Civil Code Section 1365.2 states, "Except as provided by the attorney-client privilege, the association may not withhold or redact information concerning the compensation paid to employees, vendors or contractors."

Titleholders can request to view all vendor contracts and billings, including legal invoices and legal retainer agreements.

Just as in Civil Code Section 1365.2(d)(2), the Laguna Sur case stated that information falling within the attorney-client privilege need not be disclosed. Civil Code Section 1365(d)(1)(E)(iv) makes it clear that contracts for legal services are not privileged and must be disclosed.

Further, the association may not withhold or redact information concerning the compensation paid to employees, vendors or contractors, including attorneys, who are just another vendor hired by the association.

Write the board asking to view and copy attorney invoices pursuant to Civil Code sections 1365 and 1365.2. If no response is received within 10 days of the date of your letter, or if you are once again denied access, you have the option to file in Small Claims Court against the association and simultaneously subpoena the documents you seek using a subpoena form provided by that court.

The Laguna Sur case changes nothing regarding privileged information, which can still be withheld, or nonprivileged information, which must be disclosed.

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Send questions to Box 11843, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 or e-mail noexit@mindspring.com.

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