Accountant Privilege Belongs to Client, not CPA

Posted by: Tom Christensen

The Illinois Appellate Court recently clarified that the privilege of accountant confidentiality belongs to the client, not to the accountant.  Previously, two federal cases had construed Section 27 of the Illinois Public Accounting Act as creating a confidentiality privilege that must be asserted by the CPA.  In the recent case of Brunton v. Kruger, 2014 Il App (4th) 130421 (March 27, 2014), the Illinois Appellate Court held that even though Section 27 of the Act does not refer to clients, the privilege belongs to, and is properly asserted by, the client.  The Court reasoned that Section 27 does not exist for the benefit of CPAs; it exists for the benefit of clients, to encourage them to make full disclosures to their CPAs, therefore, the privilege is for the benefit of and is properly asserted by clients.

This decision is useful guidance for CPAs who receive subpoenas in business disputes, and clarifies that in such situations, it is not for the CPA to assert the privilege, but the client. Naturally, any CPA who receives such a subpoena should promptly notify the client, so that the client can assert any appropriate objections or privilege.