In Pemberton v. Republic Services, Inc., 14-cv-01421 AGF, 2015 WL 3868082 (E.D. Mo. June 23, 2015), the court held that where a PR firm was hired by defendants during the course of extensive litigation, communications with the PR firm were outside the attorney-client privilege, but the communications and materials prepared by the PR firm were protected by the work product doctrine. Here, defendants had been sued 38 times relating to a landfill, and the landfill had been the subject of “intense media scrutiny.” Counsel for defendants engaged a PR firm to serve as a local PR consultant for counsel and defendants. In response to plaintiffs’ subpoena, the PR firm withheld 81 documents and videos on grounds of privilege and work product. Following in camera review, the court found that the majority of the documents were internal communications among personnel at the PR firm, many of which reflected prior communications between the PR firm and defendants’ counsel. Noting that there is some precedent under federal law for expanding the attorney-client privilege to include communications between a party and a PR consultant, but that no Missouri cases addressing the issue had been presented to the court, the court held that the privilege did not include communications with the PR firm. However, because the materials at issue were prepared because of the prospect of litigation, and the communications may have helped counsel shape their legal strategy, the materials were protected work product.
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