PASADENA, Calif. -- A federal appeals court here has ruled

V that the attorney-client privilege cannot prevent the Comptroller's office from looking a California bank's legal bills.

The ruling came in the case of the Comptroller of the Currency v. American Commerce National Bank of Anaheim, Calif. The Comptroller's office said that the bank improperly paid the personal legal expenses of its chairman, Gerald Garner.

The OCC issued a subpoena in 1990 demanding all billing statements from American Commerce's outside legal counsel, whose identity was not disclosed in the decision. American Commerce supplied the statements but erased all descriptive information other than dates and fees.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that the billing statements were not privileged because they contained only the "identity of a legal client, the case name, the amount of fees, and the general nature of the services performed."

The privilege protected "correspondence, bills, ledgers, statements, and time records, which also reveal the motive of the client seeking representation, litigation strategy or the specific nature of the services provided, such as researching particular areas of law," the ruling stated.

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