Sheriff's Dept.: The 1,079 Privileged Jailhouse Calls We Intercepted Was Actually 34,000 Calls

from the so,-we're-getting-really-good-at-privilege-violations dept

A few months back, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department admitted it had been listening in on privileged conversations. Calls from inmates to lawyers were being swept up along with everything else by service provider Global Tel Link. This violation of state law (among other things) jeopardized dozens of prosecutions. In all, GTL’s so-called “technical error” resulted in the interception of more than 1,000 privileged calls.

The Sheriff’s Department claimed it told GTL to fix the problem, but didn’t appear to have been terribly bothered by this evidentiary windfall… some of which made its way into the hands of prosecutors. It made several disappointed noises about its provider when confronted in court, but its quasi-proactive “knock it off” — directed towards GTL — didn’t explain its lack of proactivity when it came to informing criminal defendants and their legal reps their cases may have been compromised by attorney-client privilege violations.

This was only the tip of the iceberg. The OC Register reports there’s been an exponential increase in the number of privileged calls trapped by this “technical error.” (h/t Matt Ferner)

Nearly 34,000 inmate phone calls to their attorneys were recorded, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department accessed calls 347 times, according to documents revealed in court proceedings Friday, Nov. 9.

The numbers are a significant – and, to some, alarming – spike from the 1,079 recorded calls Global Tel Link originally acknowledged in an August hearing. At that time, 58 of those recorded calls also were said to have been accessed by Sheriff’s Department or phone company investigators 87 times from January 2015 to July 2018.

Conveniently under seal until after the sheriff’s election concluded and GTL’s contract renewal was in place, the new numbers blow the old, still disturbing, numbers out of the water. This has triggered a new round of finger-pointing from the Sheriff’s Department, which again claims — despite listening in to the illegal haul — it’s all GTL’s fault.

In a release distributed late Friday, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who plans to step down early next year, blamed GTL.

“The facts show that this is an error by GTL, an error that they are continually unable to fully disclose or explain,” Hutchens said. “We anticipate this will be exploited by some to perpetuate an anti-law enforcement narrative. We are confident that those who look at this situation objectively will recognize an error by a contractor does not constitute a conspiracy by law enforcement. To imply otherwise ignores the truth.”

Oh my. Not an “anti-law enforcement narrative.” Anything but that. The departing sheriff has decided to blame the company for the problem, but not any of her personnel who repeatedly listened to recordings they should never have had access to. And she’s proactively blaming the media by claiming reporting facts about the department’s thousands of violations is “anti-law enforcement.”

GTL, on the other hand, says the new number is bogus. It claims the older, lower number is accurate and those 1,079 calls were the only ones recorded despite the numbers called being on GTL’s “do not record” list. When asked to explain the ~33,000 call difference, GTL spokesman James Lee deferred to the court’s protective order, saying it prevented him from discussing the case. Apparently the order only covers culpatory statements but nothing halfway exonerative GTL’s front man wants to throw out there.

No one seems to know what the actual number of violations is. We’ve already seen the number of calls collected climb from 1,000 to 34,000 within the space of two months. The Sheriff’s Departments wants GTL to shoulder all the blame for the debacle, but somehow still feels comfortable signing it up for another year of possible incompetence.

Orange County taxpayers are paying department personnel to engage in attorney-client privilege violations. That’s the long and short of it. And they’re going to be paying for the eventual settlements to the eventual lawsuits. It’s to be hoped the investigation being helmed by the court will eventually reach the bottom of this debacle, but with one official walking away from the job and the department giving GTL another chance, it doesn’t seem like the embarrassing admission of multiple illegal acts by law enforcement will have much of a deterrent effect.

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Companies: global tel link

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Comments on “Sheriff's Dept.: The 1,079 Privileged Jailhouse Calls We Intercepted Was Actually 34,000 Calls”

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Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Why is it anti law enforcement?

The King’s Men, being his Hands, are as above the law as the King is. Only the King can revoke their status, and no one else can demand they do anything at all.

Our entire legal system here in the US was designed to prevent that from happening. But it presumes that any sane person will act to prevent it, and that turned out to be wishful thinking.

So we have judges that create things like the doctrine of qualified immunity out of thin air despite the fact that the judicial branch cannot create laws, or the fact that an actual law that does what QI does would be instantly struck down as unconstitutional at the first challenge.

And the King’s Men are once again above the law, even though there is no King.

Matthew Cline (profile) says:

The departing sheriff has decided to blame the company for the problem, but not any of her personnel who repeatedly listened to recordings they should never have had access to.

Is the implicit claim here that a call being client/attorney isn’t something that you can tell just be listening to it, so since no one told the personnel that it was privileged that there was no way for them to know? Or that the personnel assumed that GTL would never mistakenly hand over calls they shouldn’t, so they ignored any indications to the contrary? Or what?

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Orange county

Not only the same Sheriff’s Department, it seems that it’s the same assistant public defender (Scott Sanders) who helped reveal the snitch scandal digging into this one as well. It actually looks like the SD started "accidentally" listening to client/attorney recordings right after they lost their snitches.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"What they did was terrible! Which is why we're re-hiring them."

Conveniently under seal until after the sheriff’s election concluded and GTL’s contract renewal was in place,

They may claim that what happened was terrible, and place all the blame on the company, but the fact that they renewed their contract with the company speaks louder than words that at best they don’t actually see what happened as a big deal.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

They can all point fingers and blame whoever they want…
The problem is they knew it was happening, they benefited from it, imposed no penalties, & renewed a contract with them.

I’m pretty sure these violations of law here are way worse than a majority of the people who had their protected calls shared with the prosecution and we need to find the will to actually punish law enforcement rather than look away as we normally do.

If those charged with upholding the law can’t be held to it hasn’t that undermined the entire system?

David G (profile) says:

I worked on one of these, way back when

It was Global Tel-Link, too.

The defendant’s attorneys were putting in their PIN, to flag the call as protected; but, the recordings were still written to disk, and then sent over to the District Attorney’s office. Someone at the District Attorney’s office realized what they were listening to, and reported it. That launched a small storm, where I, an I.T. guy, was brought in. They had the date of the configuration change that broke things, so they needed me write the script that found all the possibly contaminating files, which I then copied to some sort of media (I don’t recall; it was I think 20 – 25 years ago).

Anyway, my job was to hand all the found files to an attorney who was not employed by the County, and didn’t normally do any work for the County. He was hired to then listen to every recording, and review every case of a defendant recorded, looking for evidence that a District Attorney used evidence in trial that they got via the privileged conversation. If he found that evidence, the defendant would get an automatic re-trial.

The danger was that if even one defendant was recorded, and the contents of the recording were used against the defendant, (and the defendant was found guilty), then every defendant found guilty during that time would demand a retrial. So part of the plan was to review (by this disinterested third-party attorney) every case before any of the automatic retrials were announced. That way, should someone not affected by the trouble demand a retrial, the County could say "no, your case was already checked, and you were not a part of this mess." There was some aspect of a flood of retrial demands coming through that would overwhelm the system, and invoke some sort of action / sanction due to "timeliness" not being met.

peter says:

So let me get this straight

I know that listening into privileged conversations between a client and their lawyer is illegal. (And I am not even american. We get a lot of american cop shows).

An yet the Employees of the Telephone Company did it anyway. The Employees of the Sheriff’s department did it anyway, and then passed this information onto prosecutors. And the only response was from the Sheriff’s department issuing some sort of “you really should’t be doing that you know Nod nod, wink, wink” statement.

Am I right it thinking that they were all working under the assumption that ‘it is only against the Law if you are not the Good Guys.”

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