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.

Filed Under: orange county, prison, privacy, privilege
Companies: global tel link


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Nov 2018 @ 8:35pm

    Why is it anti law enforcement?

    I personally would like to see laws enforced equally to those with badges and those without. Until that day comes, I won't listen to moronic sheriffs like this.

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