Constitutional Law

Pa. Jail Taped Inmate Calls to Counsel, Sent Some to Feds, Lawyer Says

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Adding another jurisdiction to those in which defense lawyers have previously accused officials of improperly recording inmate phone calls to their legal counsel, Federal Public Defender Lisa Freeland says in an e-mail this week to the Allegheny County defense bar that this has been happening at their local jail, too.

Allegheny County Jail officials apparently may have accidentally included some inmate-counsel conversations in recordings of jailhouse calls routinely sent to prosecutors, because a revamping of the phone system—which is not supposed to record calls to lawyers—inadvertently eliminated some legal numbers from the do-not-record list, reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

However, Freeland says federal prosecutors to whom such recordings were sent did not alert defense lawyers and have only “begrudgingly” cooperated with her investigation, the newspaper reports. Her e-mail says she was alerted to the problem only when an assistant federal defender inadvertently received an e-mail that documented a federal prosecutor’s receipt of a recording of a jailhouse conversation. In the e-mail, the prosecutor said he hadn’t listened to the call.

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan says in a written statement to the newspaper that her office has never requested any attorney-client communications between defendants and their counsel. “Any communications that have been inadvertently received by this office have not been reviewed,” she continues, adding that such incidents are “extremely rare.”

Freeland, however, contends that the U.S. Attorney’s office should have done more to notify defense counsel of such disclosures of privileged material:

“You would think a well-trained AUSA who receives attorney-client calls from the jail (knowing they are not to be recorded and/or divulged) would, the very first time it happened, report it to a supervisor; contact the jail and say, ‘Stop sending me those calls’; notify defense counsel; and turn over the recording,” she writes. “None of those things happened here.”

In an effort to resolve the situation, the American Civil Liberties Union has arranged a meeting early next week with Freeland and Allegeny County Solicitor Michael Wojcik. He tells the newspaper that he takes the attorney-client privilege between defenders and their lawyers very seriously and pledges to fix any problem that may have led to inadvertent disclosure of confidential communications.

Earlier related coverage: “Sheriff Taped Jail Phone Calls in ‘Illegal Spying’ Campaign, Lawyer Says” “Prosecutors Taken Off Fla. Murder Case for Listening to Defendant’s Phone Calls” “Does Jailhouse Pay Phone Recording Violate 6th Amendment?” “DA Can Check Jail Phone Calls for Case Information, Calif. Judge Rules”

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