Vestal v. Treasury (Fed. Cir. 2021)
This is not a patent case, but it is strange enough to need some thought. Sarah Vestal was an IRS employee. In 2018, the IRS planned to suspend her based upon “discourteous and unprofessional conduct.” In preparing her defense, Vestal sent the Record from a Taxpayer’s File to her private attorney. That record included private information that Vestal was not permitted to share outside the office. She was then fired as a consequence of sharing the information with her attorney. On appeal, the Federal Circuit has affirmed:
Ms. Vestal intentionally disclosed taxpayer information to an unauthorized person for her own benefit.
The writing of the decision is interesting (or perhaps odd) because it appears to treat IRS confidentiality as “sacrosanct,” but not attorney-client communication. Recognize here that the IRS might have permitted her to disclose some aspects of the case to her attorney — but only after redaction and approval.
This type of issue is important and relevant to anyone operating in a confidential environment (such as almost every company) who might need to privately consult an attorney.