An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday denied a request from a Public Defender’s Office attorney to ban the recording of phone calls out of the Orange County jails while officials sort through a scandal involving three years of improper recordings of inmate calls to their attorneys.
Sara Ross, one of the attorneys from the Public Defender’s Office, which has sued to safeguard all of the improperly recorded calls, said the move was necessary to make sure the practice doesn’t continue while authorities work to fix the problem and investigate how the breach happened.
“We don’t know if our calls are being recorded,” Ross told Judge Gregg Prickett.
Ross cited the recent “history” of corruption scandals with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, including the use of jailhouse informants, as well as the phone service provider’s improper recording of jail calls to attorneys in Florida.
The service provider, Global Tel Link, or GTL, has acknowledged that a software upgrade in January 2015 led to many attorneys dropping off a do-not-record list.
The recording of inmate calls to attorneys could be ruled a constitutional violation of the attorney-client privilege and some attorneys say could lead to the dropping charges against some defendants.
Defendants whose calls were reportedly recorded include Hossein Nayeri, who is charged with kidnapping and sexual mutilatin of a marijuana dispensary owner to rob him and who made headlines as one of three men who escaped the jails, as well as Shazer Limas, who allegedly killed his girlfriend and their two infant sons.
“I don’t think we should assume they’re obeying the court order” to stop recording inmate calls to attorneys, Ross said.
Ross said a ban on recording all calls “until we figure out what’s going on” would ensure “everyone’s protected.”
Annie Loo, an attorney for the county, said a ban would open the doors to inmates conducting illegal activity from the jail.
“Witness intimidation is the first to come to mind,” Loo said.
Loo said a ban would lead to “severe safety and security concerns.”
Loo also argued that sheriff’s officials “every day” have been “demonstrating they’re complying with the order.”
Prickett denied the motion, but did so “without prejudice,” meaning Ross could raise the issue again if there are signs indicating calls continue to be recorded improperly.
Officials know of at least 11 defendants whose calls to their attorneys have been recorded and accessed by law enforcement.
Attorney Joel Garson, who got the investigation started in his defense of attempted murder defendant Josh Waring, the son of a former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member, said 11 of his phone calls from clients were recorded and listened to by law enforcement.
The attorneys representing other defendants have also requested an evidentiary hearing, but Prickett has not yet decided whether to schedule one. A “special master” judge who was appointed to go through the phone calls and other data will offer a “progress report” and make an estimate of when he will finish the job on Nov. 9.
After the hearing, Ross said at least two dozen more defendants may have had their calls to attorneys recorded and accessed by law enforcement.