905.11   Waiver of privilege by voluntary disclosure.
905.12   Privileged matter disclosed under compulsion or without opportunity to claim privilege.
905.13   Comment upon or inference from claim of privilege; instruction.
905.14   Privilege in crime victim compensation proceedings.
905.15   Privilege in use of federal tax return information.
905.16   Communications to veteran mentors.
Ch. 905 Note NOTE: Extensive comments by the Judicial Council Committee and the Federal Advisory Committee are printed with chs. 901 to 911 in 59 Wis. 2d. The court did not adopt the comments but ordered them printed with the rules for information purposes.
905.01 905.01 Privileges recognized only as provided. Except as provided by or inherent or implicit in statute or in rules adopted by the supreme court or required by the constitution of the United States or Wisconsin, no person has a privilege to:
905.01(1) (1)Refuse to be a witness; or
905.01(2) (2)Refuse to disclose any matter; or
905.01(3) (3)Refuse to produce any object or writing; or
905.01(4) (4)Prevent another from being a witness or disclosing any matter or producing any object or writing.
905.01 History History: Sup. Ct. Order, 59 Wis. 2d R1, R101 (1973).
905.01 Annotation This section precludes courts from recognizing common law privileges not contained in the statutes, or the U.S. or Wisconsin Constitutions. Privileges and confidentialities granted by statute are strictly interpreted. Davison v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 75 Wis. 2d 190, 248 N.W.2d 433 (1977).
905.01 Annotation A defendant did not have standing to complain that a physician's testimony violated the witness's physician-patient privilege under s. 905.04; the defendant was not authorized to claim the privilege on the patient's behalf. State v. Echols, 152 Wis. 2d 725, 449 N.W.2d 320 (Ct. App. 1989).
905.01 Annotation As s. 907.06 (1) prevents a court from compelling an expert to testify, it logically follows that a litigant should not be able to so compel an expert and a privilege to refuse to testify is implied. Burnett v. Alt, 224 Wis. 2d 72, 589 N.W.2d 21 (1999), 96-3356.
905.01 Annotation Under Alt, 224 Wis. 2d 72 (1999), a person asserting the privilege not to offer expert opinion testimony can be required to give that testimony only if: 1) there are compelling circumstances present; 2) there is a plan for reasonable compensation of the expert; and 3) the expert will not be required to do additional preparation for the testimony. An exact question requiring expert opinion testimony and a clear assertion of the privilege are required for a court to decide whether compelling circumstances exist. Alt does not apply to observations made by a person's treating physician relating to the care or treatment provided to the patient. Glenn v. Plante, 2004 WI 24, 269 Wis. 2d 575, 676 N.W.2d 413, 02-1426.
905.01 Annotation The “inherent or implicit" language in this section is quite narrow in scope and was included by the supreme court to preserve a particular work product privilege already recognized at the time this language was added to the statute, while leaving other privileges to be provided for more expressly in other statutory provisions. Sands v. Whitnall School District, 2008 WI 89, 312 Wis. 2d 1, 754 N.W.2d 439, 05-1026.
905.01 Annotation Closed Session, Open Book: Sifting the Sands Case. Bach. Wis. Law. Oct. 2009.
905.015 905.015 Interpreters for persons with language difficulties, limited English proficiency, or hearing or speaking impairments.
905.015(1)(1)If an interpreter for a person with a language difficulty, limited English proficiency, as defined in s. 885.38 (1) (b), or a hearing or speaking impairment interprets as an aid to a communication which is privileged by statute, rules adopted by the supreme court, or the U.S. or state constitution, the interpreter may be prevented from disclosing the communication by any person who has a right to claim the privilege. The interpreter may claim the privilege but only on behalf of the person who has the right. The authority of the interpreter to do so is presumed in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
905.015(2) (2)In addition to the privilege under sub. (1), a person who is licensed as an interpreter under s. 440.032 (3) may not disclose any aspect of a confidential communication facilitated by the interpreter unless one of the following conditions applies:
905.015(2)(a) (a) All parties to the confidential communication consent to the disclosure.
905.015(2)(b) (b) A court determines that the disclosure is necessary for the proper administration of justice.
905.015 History History: 1979 c. 137; 1985 a. 266; 2001 a. 16; 2009 a. 360.
905.02 905.02 Required reports privileged by statute. A person, corporation, association, or other organization or entity, either public or private, making a return or report required by law to be made has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing the return or report, if provided by law. A public officer or agency to whom a return or report is required by law to be made has a privilege to refuse to disclose the return or report if provided by law. No privilege exists under this section in actions involving false swearing, fraudulent writing, fraud in the return or report, or other failure to comply with the law in question.
905.02 History History: Sup. Ct. Order, 59 Wis. 2d R1, R109 (1973).
905.02 Annotation This section applies only to privileges specifically and unequivocally provided by law against the disclosure of specific materials. Davison v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Insurance Co., 75 Wis. 2d 190, 248 N.W.2d 433 (1977).
905.03 905.03 Lawyer-client privilege.
905.03(1)(1)Definitions. As used in this section:
905.03(1)(a) (a) A “client" is a person, public officer, or corporation, association, or other organization or entity, either public or private, who is rendered professional legal services by a lawyer, or who consults a lawyer with a view to obtaining professional legal services from the lawyer.
905.03(1)(b) (b) A “lawyer" is a person authorized, or reasonably believed by the client to be authorized, to practice law in any state or nation.
905.03(1)(c) (c) A “representative of the lawyer" is one employed to assist the lawyer in the rendition of professional legal services.
905.03(1)(d) (d) A communication is “confidential" if not intended to be disclosed to 3rd persons other than those to whom disclosure is in furtherance of the rendition of professional legal services to the client or those reasonably necessary for the transmission of the communication.
905.03(2) (2)General rule of privilege. A client has a privilege to refuse to disclose and to prevent any other person from disclosing confidential communications made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services to the client: between the client or the client's representative and the client's lawyer or the lawyer's representative; or between the client's lawyer and the lawyer's representative; or by the client or the client's lawyer to a lawyer representing another in a matter of common interest; or between representatives of the client or between the client and a representative of the client; or between lawyers representing the client.
905.03(3) (3)Who may claim the privilege. The privilege may be claimed by the client, the client's guardian or conservator, the personal representative of a deceased client, or the successor, trustee, or similar representative of a corporation, association, or other organization, whether or not in existence. The person who was the lawyer at the time of the communication may claim the privilege but only on behalf of the client. The lawyer's authority to do so is presumed in the absence of evidence to the contrary.
905.03(4) (4)Exceptions. There is no privilege under this rule:
905.03(4)(a) (a) Furtherance of crime or fraud. If the services of the lawyer were sought or obtained to enable or aid anyone to commit or plan to commit what the client knew or reasonably should have known to be a crime or fraud; or
905.03(4)(b) (b) Claimants through same deceased client. As to a communication relevant to an issue between parties who claim through the same deceased client, regardless of whether the claims are by testate or intestate succession or by inter vivos transaction; or
905.03(4)(c) (c) Breach of duty by lawyer or client. As to a communication relevant to an issue of breach of duty by the lawyer to the lawyer's client or by the client to the client's lawyer; or
905.03(4)(d) (d) Document attested by lawyer. As to a communication relevant to an issue concerning an attested document to which the lawyer is an attesting witness; or
905.03(4)(e) (e) Joint clients. As to a communication relevant to a matter of common interest between 2 or more clients if the communication was made by any of them to a lawyer retained or consulted in common, when offered in an action between any of the clients.
905.03(5) (5)Forfeiture of privilege.
905.03(5)(a) (a) Effect of inadvertent disclosure. A disclosure of a communication covered by the privilege, regardless of where the disclosure occurs, does not operate as a forfeiture if all of the following apply:
905.03(5)(a)1. 1. The disclosure is inadvertent.
905.03(5)(a)2. 2. The holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure.
905.03(5)(a)3. 3. The holder promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error, including, if applicable, following the procedures in s. 804.01 (7).
905.03(5)(b) (b) Scope of forfeiture. A disclosure that constitutes a forfeiture under par. (a) extends to an undisclosed communication only if all of the following apply:
905.03(5)(b)1. 1. The disclosure is not inadvertent.
905.03(5)(b)2. 2. The disclosed and undisclosed communications concern the same subject matter.
905.03(5)(b)3. 3. The disclosed and undisclosed communications ought in fairness to be considered together.
905.03 History History: Sup. Ct. Order, 59 Wis. 2d R1, R111 (1973); 1991 a. 32; Sup. Ct. Order No. 12-03, 2012 WI 114, 344 Wis. 2d xxi; 2013 a. 151 s. 28.
905.03 Note Judicial Council Note, 2012:  Sup. Ct. Order No. 12-03 states that “the Judicial Council Notes to Wis. Stat. § 804.01 (2) (c), 804.01 (7), 805.07 (2) (d), and 905.03 (5) are not adopted, but will be published and may be consulted for guidance in interpreting and applying the rule."
905.03 Note Attorneys and those who work with them owe clients and their confidences the utmost respect. Preserving confidences is one of the profession's highest duties. Arguably, strict rules about the consequences of disclosing confidences, even inadvertently, may serve to promote greater care in dealing with privileged information. However, precaution comes at a price. In the digital era, when information is stored, exchanged and produced in considerably greater volumes and in different formats than in earlier eras, thorough preproduction privilege review often can be prohibitively expensive. Most clients seek a balanced approach.
905.03 Note The various approaches available are discussed in the Advisory Committee Note and in Harold Sampson Children's Trust v. Linda Gale Sampson 1979 Trust, 2004 WI 57, ¶¶28-32, nn.15-17, 271 Wis. 2d 610. Sub. (5) represents an “intermediate" or “middle ground" approach, which is also an approach taken in a majority of jurisdictions. Clients and lawyers are free to negotiate more stringent precautions when circumstances warrant.
905.03 Note Sub. (5) is not intended to have the effect of overruling any holding in Sampson. Sampson holds that a lawyer's deliberate disclosure, without the consent or knowledge of the client, does not waive the lawyer-client privilege. Neither subpart of sub. (5) alters this rule. Sub. (5)(a) shields certain inadvertent disclosures but does not disturb existing law regarding deliberate disclosures. Deliberate disclosures might come into play under sub. (5)(b), which provides that, when a disclosure is not inadvertent, a privilege forfeiture under sub. (5)(a) may extend to undisclosed communications and information as well. However, such an extension ensues only when fairness warrants. Fairness does not warrant the surrender of additional privileged communications and information if the initial disclosure is neutralized by the Sampson rule.
905.03 Note In judging whether the holder of the privilege or protection took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure or to rectify the error, it is appropriate to consider the non-dispositive factors discussed in the Advisory Committee Note: (1) the reasonableness of precautions taken, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of disclosure, (5) the number of documents to be reviewed, (6) the time constraints for production, (7) whether reliable software tools were used to screen documents before production, (8) whether an efficient records management system was in place before litigation; and (9) any overriding issue of fairness.
905.03 Note Measuring the time taken to rectify an inadvertent disclosure should commence when the producing party first learns, or, with reasonable care, should have learned that a disclosure of protected information was made, rather than when the documents were produced. This standard encourages respect for the privilege without greatly increasing the cost of protecting the privilege.
905.03 Note In judging the fourth factor, which requires a court to determine the quantity of inadvertently produced documents, it is appropriate to consider, among other things, the number of documents produced and the percentage of privileged documents produced compared to the total production.
905.03 Note In assessing whether the software tools used to screen documents before production were reliable, it is appropriate, given current technology, to consider whether the producing party designed a search that would distinguish privileged documents from others to be produced and conducted assurance testing before production through methods commonly available and accepted at the time of the review and production.
905.03 Note Sub. (5) employs a distinction drawn lately between the terms “waiver" and “forfeiture." See State v. Ndina, 2009 WI 21, ¶¶28-31, 315 Wis. 2d 653.
905.03 Note Out of respect for principles of federalism and comity with other jurisdictions, sub. (5) does not conclusively resolve whether privileged communications inadvertently disclosed in proceedings in other jurisdictions may be used in Wisconsin proceedings; nor whether privileged communications inadvertently disclosed in Wisconsin proceedings may be used in proceedings in other jurisdictions. Sub. (5) states that it applies “regardless of where the disclosure occurs," but to the extent that the law of another jurisdiction controls the question, it is not trumped by sub. (5). The prospect for actual conflicts is minimized because sub. (5) is the same or similar to the rule applied in the majority of jurisdictions that have addressed this issue. If conflicts do arise, for example, because a rule dictates that a disclosure in a jurisdiction other than Wisconsin should be treated as a forfeiture in Wisconsin, or that a disclosure in Wisconsin should be treated as a forfeiture in a jurisdiction other than Wisconsin, a court should consider a choice-of-law analysis. See Beloit Liquidating Trust v. Grade, 2004 WI 39, ¶¶24-25, 270 Wis. 2d 356.
905.03 Note The language of sub. (5) also differs from the language of Rule 502 in a way that should not be considered material. Sub. (5) applies to a privileged “communication." Rule 502 applies to a privileged “communication or information." The reason for the difference is that sub. (5) is grafted onto sub. (2), which states the general rule regarding the lawyer-client privilege in terms of “communications" between lawyers and clients, not “communications and information." Sub. (5) follows suit. This different language is not intended to alter the scope of the lawyer-client privilege or to provide any less protection against inadvertent disclosure of privileged information than is provided by Rule 502.
905.03 Note Sub. (5) is modeled on subsections (a) and (b) of Fed. R. Evid. 502. The following excerpts from the Committee Note of the federal Advisory Committee on Evidence Rules (Revised 11/28/2007) and the Statement of Congressional Intent regarding Rule 502 are instructive, though not binding, in understanding the scope and purposes of those portions of Rule 502 that are borrowed here:
905.03 Note
905.03 Note This new [federal] rule has two major purposes:
905.03 Note 1) It resolves some longstanding disputes in the courts about the effect of certain disclosures of communications or information protected by the attorney-client privilege or as work product — specifically those disputes involving inadvertent disclosure and subject matter waiver.
905.03 Note 2) It responds to the widespread complaint that litigation costs necessary to protect against waiver of attorney-client privilege or work product have become prohibitive due to the concern that any disclosure (however innocent or minimal) will operate as a subject matter waiver of all protected communications or information. This concern is especially troubling in cases involving electronic discovery. See, e.g., Hopson v. City of Baltimore, 232 F.R.D. 228, 244 (D. Md. 2005) (electronic discovery may encompass “millions of documents" and to insist upon “record-by-record pre-production privilege review, on pain of subject matter waiver, would impose upon parties costs of production that bear no proportionality to what is at stake in the litigation").
905.03 Note The rule seeks to provide a predictable, uniform set of standards under which parties can determine the consequences of a disclosure of a communication or information covered by the attorney-client privilege or work-product protection. Parties to litigation need to know, for example, that if they exchange privileged information pursuant to a confidentiality order, the court's order will be enforceable. Moreover, if a federal court's confidentiality order is not enforceable in a state court then the burdensome costs of privilege review and retention are unlikely to be reduced.
905.03 Note . . .
905.03 Note Subdivision (a). The rule provides that a voluntary disclosure in a federal proceeding or to a federal office or agency, if a waiver, generally results in a waiver only of the communication or information disclosed; a subject matter waiver (of either privilege or work product) is reserved for those unusual situations in which fairness requires a further disclosure of related, protected information, in order to prevent a selective and misleading presentation of evidence to the disadvantage of the adversary. See, e.g., In re United Mine Workers of America Employee Benefit Plans Litig., 159 F.R.D. 307, 312 (D.D.C. 1994) (waiver of work product limited to materials actually disclosed, because the party did not deliberately disclose documents in an attempt to gain a tactical advantage). Thus, subject matter waiver is limited to situations in which a party intentionally puts protected information into the litigation in a selective, misleading and unfair manner. It follows that an inadvertent disclosure of protected information can never result in a subject matter waiver. See Rule 502(b). The rule rejects the result in In re Sealed Case, 877 F.2d 976 (D.C. Cir. 1989), which held that inadvertent disclosure of documents during discovery automatically constituted a subject matter waiver.
905.03 Note The language concerning subject matter waiver — “ought in fairness" — is taken from Rule 106, because the animating principle is the same. Under both Rules, a party that makes a selective, misleading presentation that is unfair to the adversary opens itself to a more complete and accurate presentation.
905.03 Note To assure protection and predictability, the rule provides that if a disclosure is made at the federal level, the federal rule on subject matter waiver governs subsequent state court determinations on the scope of the waiver by that disclosure.
905.03 Note Subdivision (b). Courts are in conflict over whether an inadvertent disclosure of a communication or information protected as privileged or work product constitutes a waiver. A few courts find that a disclosure must be intentional to be a waiver. Most courts find a waiver only if the disclosing party acted carelessly in disclosing the communication or information and failed to request its return in a timely manner. And a few courts hold that any inadvertent disclosure of a communication or information protected under the attorney-client privilege or as work product constitutes a waiver without regard to the protections taken to avoid such a disclosure. See generally Hopson v. City of Baltimore, 232 F.R.D. 228 (D. Md. 2005), for a discussion of this case law.
905.03 Note The rule opts for the middle ground: inadvertent disclosure of protected communications or information in connection with a federal proceeding or to a federal office or agency does not constitute a waiver if the holder took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure and also promptly took reasonable steps to rectify the error. This position is in accord with the majority view on whether inadvertent disclosure is a waiver.
905.03 Note Cases such as Lois Sportswear, U.S.A., Inc. v. Levi Strauss & Co., 104 F.R.D. 103, 105 (S.D. N.Y. 1985) and Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Garvey, 109 F.R.D. 323, 332 (N.D. Cal. 1985), set out a multi-factor test for determining whether inadvertent disclosure is a waiver. The stated factors (none of which is dispositive) are the reasonableness of precautions taken, the time taken to rectify the error, the scope of discovery, the extent of disclosure and the overriding issue of fairness. The rule does not explicitly codify that test, because it is really a set of non-determinative guidelines that vary from case to case. The rule is flexible enough to accommodate any of those listed factors. Other considerations bearing on the reasonableness of a producing party's efforts include the number of documents to be reviewed and the time constraints for production. Depending on the circumstances, a party that uses advanced analytical software applications and linguistic tools in screening for privilege and work product may be found to have taken “reasonable steps" to prevent inadvertent disclosure. The implementation of an efficient system of records management before litigation may also be relevant.
905.03 Note The rule does not require the producing party to engage in a post-production review to determine whether any protected communication or information has been produced by mistake. But the rule does require the producing party to follow up on any obvious indications that a protected communication or information has been produced inadvertently.
905.03 Note The rule applies to inadvertent disclosures made to a federal office or agency, including but not limited to an office or agency that is acting in the course of its regulatory, investigative or enforcement authority. The consequences of waiver, and the concomitant costs of pre-production privilege review, can be as great with respect to disclosures to offices and agencies as they are in litigation.
905.03 Note During consideration of this rule in Congress, a number of questions were raised about the scope and contours of the effect of the proposed rule on current law regarding attorney-client privilege and work-product protection. These questions were ultimately answered satisfactorily, without need to revise the text of the rule as submitted to Congress by the Judicial Conference.
905.03 Note In general, these questions are answered by keeping in mind the limited though important purpose and focus of the rule. The rule addresses only the effect of disclosure, under specified circumstances, of a communication that is otherwise protected by attorney-client privilege, or of information that is protected by work-product protection, on whether the disclosure itself operates as a waiver of the privilege or protection for purposes of admissibility of evidence in a federal or state judicial or administrative proceeding. The rule does not alter the substantive law regarding attorney-client privilege or work-product protection in any other respect, including the burden on the party invoking the privilege (or protection) to prove that the particular information (or communication) qualifies for it. And it is not intended to alter the rules and practices governing use of information outside this evidentiary context.
905.03 Note Some of these questions are addressed more specifically below, in order to help further avoid uncertainty in the interpretation and application of the rule.
905.03 Note Subdivision (a) — Disclosure vs. Use
905.03 Note This subdivision does not alter the substantive law regarding when a party's strategic use in litigation of otherwise privileged information obliges that party to waive the privilege regarding other information concerning the same subject matter, so that the information being used can be fairly considered in context. One situation in which this issue arises, the assertion as a defense in patent-infringement litigation that a party was relying on advice of counsel, is discussed elsewhere in this Note. In this and similar situations, under subdivision (a)(1) the party using an attorney-client communication to its advantage in the litigation has, in so doing, intentionally waived the privilege as to other communications concerning the same subject matter, regardless of the circumstances in which the communication being so used was initially disclosed.
905.03 Note Subdivision (b) — Fairness Considerations
905.03 Note The standard set forth in this subdivision for determining whether a disclosure operates as a waiver of the privilege or protection is, as explained elsewhere in this Note, the majority rule in the federal courts. The majority rule has simply been distilled here into a standard designed to be predictable in its application. This distillation is not intended to foreclose notions of fairness from continuing to inform application of the standard in all aspects as appropriate in particular cases — for example, as to whether steps taken to rectify an erroneous inadvertent disclosure were sufficiently prompt under subdivision (b)(3) where the receiving party has relied on the information disclosed.
905.03 Note
905.03 Annotation That there was a communication from a client to an attorney is insufficient to find the communication is privileged. Jax v. Jax, 73 Wis. 2d 572, 243 N.W.2d 831 (1975).
2021-22 Wisconsin Statutes updated through 2023 Wis. Act 71 and through all Supreme Court and Controlled Substances Board Orders filed before and in effect on February 14, 2024. Published and certified under s. 35.18. Changes effective after February 14, 2024, are designated by NOTES. (Published 2-14-24)