Any litigant (usually a foreign company, but not necessarily) who produces, in litigation in the United States, documents from a foreign source is exposing those documents to any and all federal criminal prosecutions. So sayeth the Ninth Circuit in In re: Grand Jury Subpoenas Served on White & Case LLP, Lieff, Cabraser, Heinemann, K&L Gates LLP, & Nossman, LLP, No. 10-15758, slip op. (9th Cir. Dec. 7, 2010).
We gather that certain unprivileged, but overseas, documents were produced pursuant to a protective order in a civil antitrust action. A federal grand jury subpoenaed both sides in that civil litigation, seeking the documents – which it could not have accessed if they remained overseas.
The Ninth Circuit said, in effect, “*%^*@ civil protective orders, if anybody produces foreign documents in this country, that makes them fair game for the prosecutor” – absent collusion or some claim of privilege:
No collusion between the civil suitors and the government has been established or even suggested by the Law Firms. . . . [T]he government ha[s] not engaged in any bad faith tactics. Moreover, the Law Firms do not claim that the documents are privileged. Accordingly, we apply our per se rule that a grand jury subpoena takes precedence over a civil protective order. By a chance of litigation, the documents have been moved from outside the grasp of the grand jury to within its grasp. No authority forbids the government from closing its grip on what lies within the jurisdiction of the grand jury.
A word to the wise is sufficient. If it’s produced in US civil litigation, and isn’t privileged (and maybe if it is), the feds can get it – at least in the Ninth Circuit.
Slip op. at 19638 (that’s how they do it in the 9th Circuit).