A move narrowly failed Tuesday to immediately cancel the county’s contract for jail inmate phone services in light of an evolving scandal involving improperly recorded calls to the inmates’ attorneys.
Orange County Supervisors Shawn Nelson and Todd Spitzer wanted to immediately give notice to Global Tel Link, or GTL, that its contract will not be renewed next month, but the other three supervisors opposed the move.
Spitzer put the move on the agenda following a scathing letter from Orange County Counsel Leon Page to the company dated Oct. 3. Page demanded answers to several open questions about how many calls have been recorded from inmates to their attorneys, which could be argued is a Sixth Amendment violation that could lead to cases against some violent criminals being dismissed.
GTL officials replied that they would answer the questions at the next court hearing on the issue next Tuesday. Orange County Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett has ordered all of the recorded calls to be turned over to a special master while attorneys plow through the evidence to see which cases may have been affected.
At issue is whether law enforcement accessed the calls to gain an advantage in their investigations. If so, it would be a constitutional violation.
In the letter from Page to GTL, he said at one recent hearing it was learned that 549 of calls made to attorney Joel Garson were recorded. Garson is representing Josh Waring, the son of a “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member who is charged with attempted murder.
Waring is seeking to get the case against him dismissed due to outrageous governmental misconduct based on his allegations his calls to his attorneys were recorded as well as calls he has made while representing himself without an attorney.
Garson told City News Service that the number is now 600 calls recorded. Not all of them were fully recorded, he said. Of those calls, 11 of them were accessed by law enforcement, including one by an investigator in the sheriff’s special handling unit who was also involved in the jail informant scandal revolving around mass killer Scott Dekraai.
Garson said on Tuesday he received a list of who has listened to the calls and they were all sworn deputies, “which is not normal because they’re doing it for police work.”
Spitzer noted that attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office now estimate “that it’s closer to 2,000” calls that were improperly recorded.
GTL officials have said that due to a technical upgraded in January 2015, many numbers that were on a do-not-record list were dropped, so the calls were being recorded for years.
Spitzer argued that a vendor should be brought in immediately without bidding to provide the services until officials can go through a bidding process.
“So today I’m asking the board to fire GTL,” Spitzer said. “I don’t want to continue this another 30 to 60 days or do another study. We have all the evidence of incompetence. It won’t be hard to find a replacement.”
Nelson objected to GTL saying they would respond to the county’s letter on Oct. 23, the same date they would report back to Prickett in court.
“That’s a criminal case that will have its own adjudication, ” Nelson said. “We still have a business relationship.”
Nelson said he did not want to wait any longer for answers from GTL and wished to find another vendor.
“These people are a liability,” Nelson said. “It’s embarrassing to deal with incompetent people, but the only thing more embarrassing is to keep dealing with incompetent people. These people need to be out.”
Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said she was “just as frustrated as my colleagues,” but she warned that the jail phone service industry is “peculiar” and added, “we don’t have a plethora of vendors out there.”
Bartlett said one vendor had a major “hack into their system” and thousands of calls were downloaded.
“I think it would be reckless to just go out with a sole-source contract” without bidding, Bartlett argued. “None of these vendors are perfect. They’ve all had issues.”
Sheriff Sandra Hutchens pleaded with the board to wait until its Nov. 6 meeting when she will provide a variety of options.
Spitzer and Nelson said time was running out to find a new vendor, and Spitzer argued they needed to give legal notice, but Page noted that the notice would only be needed if they didn’t have cause to cancel it and in this case they do have good cause to terminate the contract.
The county could just let its contract with GTL expire on Nov. 24 as it is set to do now, Page said.
However, sheriff’s officials warn it would take several months to get a new vendor in to provide services, and Hutchens said she is required by law to provide phone services for inmates. The phones in the jails are owned by GTL, so a new vendor would have to install all new phones.
Hutchens also wishes to transition to a new system with tablets instead of phones, and that also complicates the issue of finding a new vendor.
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