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Calif. sheriff’s dept. accused of recording attorney-inmate phone calls

Attorneys filed a motion accusing sheriff’s officials of conspiring with jail phone vendor to breach calls between inmates and their attorneys

By Tony Saavedra
The Orange County Register

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The defense attorney who discovered that Orange County prosecutors and deputies were misusing jailhouse informants is now accusing the Sheriff’s Department of intentionally recording attorney-client phone calls.

Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders filed a 48-page motion this week accusing sheriff’s officials of conspiring with jail phone vendor GTL of Reston, Virginia, to breach calls between inmates and their attorneys. The vendor has previously acknowledged inadvertent recording of more than 1,000 calls since January 2015 because of an error during a software upgrade.

Scott Sanders, the assistant public defender who questioned jailhouse informants in the Scott Dekraai mass murder case in Seal Beach, now believes the recording of phone calls between jail inmates and their attorneys was deliberate. Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG)

But Sanders said the department and GTL discovered the error years ago and kept recording the calls anyway, only recently acknowledging the breach of one of the most sacred tenets in the law.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Carrie Braun said the initial recordings were by error and that all calls carry a prompt that the conversations are subject to be recorded.

“This item is in ongoing litigation and any further investigation has been delegated by the court to the appointed special master,” Braun said.

GTL spokesman James Lee denied any wrongdoing by the firm, but said he could not comment further because of pending investigations.

Sanders has forged some credibility as the defense lawyer who got the District Attorney’s office kicked off the largest mass murder case in Orange County history for misusing jailhouse informants. Sanders also persuaded a Superior Court judge to spare the confessed murderer — who killed eight people — the death penalty because of perceived misconduct by sheriff’s officials.

Sanders is building his latest accusation partly on discrepancies in the call data from GTL. In a list of recorded calls, GTL says only seven were to the Public Defender’s Office over a three-year period. Sanders said they get more calls than that during a single hour. And the GTL list shows long stretches — up to five weeks — when no calls were recorded.

Sanders estimates the GTL list of 1,079 recorded calls over three years is short by several hundred thousand, considering the jail books 60,000 new inmates every year.

He also notes in his motion that GTL employee Larry Coleman has worked for years as a liaison with the jail deputies who handled informants. The data shows it wasn’t until Coleman listened to one of the recorded calls in February 2015 that deputies began accessing the barred conversations — and didn’t stop until 2017.

Sanders said he believes deputies kept a log that mentions their GTL activities, discontinuing the ledger right after the judge removed the district attorney from the mass murder prosecution.

Sanders charges that after getting caught improperly using jail informants, the Sheriff’s Department turned to the illegal monitoring of inmates’ phone calls to their attorneys.

The motion seeks the release of several documents pertaining to the recordings and asks for a hearing to question some of the participants. The legal maneuvering comes in the midst of a burglary case for Justin Weisz, who was arrested in Huntington Beach.

Weisz’s calls are not on GTL’s list, but Sanders is still asking for any recordings of his client.