August 1, 2006
FROM: Robert J. Freeman, Executive Director
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your correspondence.
As you are aware, I have received your inquiry. Please accept my apologies for the delay in response. You have asked whether "retainer statements filed with the Office of Court Administration (OCA) in personal injury matters" are accessible under the Freedom of Information Law.
In this regard, in an effort to learn more of the issue, I contacted OCA and was directed to 22 NYCRR §6307. That is a rule promulgated by the Appellate Division, First Department, but I was informed that each Department has adopted analogous provisions. The cited provision deals specifically with "Claims or actions for personal injuries", and subdivision (a)(2) states in part that "A statement of retainer must be filed in connection with each action, claim or proceeding for which the attorney has been retained." That provision also contains the form of the retainer statement indicating that is to be filed with OCA and must include a variety of information.
With respect to your specific question, §6307(c) entitled "Confidential nature of statements" provides in paragraph (1) that:
"All statements of retainers or closing statements filed shall be deemed to be confidential and the information therein contained shall not be divulged or made available for inspection or examination to any person other than the client of the attorney filing said statements except upon written order of the presiding justice of the Appellate Division."
Based on the foregoing, the retainer agreements of your interest are deemed confidential by the Appellate Division.
Even in the absence of the provision quoted above, I believe that elements of the retainer agreements could be withheld pursuant to §87(2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Law. That provision authorizes an agency to deny access to records insofar as disclosure would constitute "an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
I hope that I have been of assistance.