Lawyers for ex-Wells Fargo broker ordered to hand over client data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New Jersey court on Wednesday ordered lawyers for a former Wells Fargo & Co employee to hand over reams of customer information that the bank’s outside counsel accidentally provided the lawyers in response to a subpoena.

Lawyers for the former employee, Gary Sinderbrand, must give court authorities a disc that one of the lawyers said contains the names, Social Security numbers and account balances of tens of thousands of Wells Fargo clients, according to the order.

The New Jersey decision follows a separate ruling by a New York court on Tuesday that required Sinderbrand’s lawyers to halt any review of or planned action to use or share the data, and scheduled a hearing for arguments as to whether the lawyers should be required to return the disc to the bank.

Sinderbrand is suing his brother, whom he worked with at Wells Fargo Advisors, in New Jersey over the separation of their joint business and in New York for defamation.

Sinderbrand’s lawyers have said that a lawyer for Wells, Angela Turiano, of law firm Bressler, Amery & Ross, shared the data in response to a subpoena in the New Jersey case.

Wells Fargo is not a party to the New Jersey case, although its brokerage, Wells Fargo Advisors, is a party to the New York case.

Although Turiano apparently shared the information by mistake, Sinderbrand’s lawyer Aaron Zeisler argued in a letter filed in the New York case that the data should not be handed over to Wells to be destroyed because disclosure of the data may have violated privacy laws.

The matter has embarrassed Wells Fargo, which has struggled to restore trust after an unrelated sales scandal in which branch employees opened as many as 2.1 million phony deposit and card accounts in customers’ names without their permission.

Shea Leordeanu, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Advisors, said the bank takes responsibility for releasing the information.

“This was the unfortunate result of an unintentional human error involving a spreadsheet,” Leordeanu said in a statement. The rulings “are a positive result of our ongoing efforts to make things right,” she added.

Wells Fargo has determined what went wrong, and all information that is released in connection with legal matters will now undergo increased review, she said. The bank is now reviewing whether any client information was shared more widely and will contact clients if so.

The New Jersey order requires that Sinderbrand and his lawyer delete any digital file copies they made from the information disclosed in the subpoena, and that they give the court the encrypted CD Turiano provided and any copies. The court will “safeguard the CD” until a hearing on Wells’ requests scheduled for September.

The data release was first reported by The New York Times last week in a story citing one of Sinderbrand’s lawyers as a source.

Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Lauren Tara LaCapra and Leslie Adler