AUSTIN (CN) - The Travis County Sheriff's and District Attorney's Offices illegally record phone calls between inmates and their lawyers, which prosecutors use against them, the Austin Lawyers Guild and four of its members claim in a federal class action.
Joining the Austin Lawyers Guild as plaintiffs are criminal defense attorneys Carl Gossett, David Grassbaugh, Mark Sampson and Francis Williams and an inmate advocacy group, the Prison Justice League.
They sued Securus Technologies, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and Travis County Attorney David Escamilla.
Austin, the state capital, is the seat of Travis County.
The attorneys claim that Securus, a private contractor, provides telephone and video conferencing services at the Travis County Jail in downtown Austin and the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle.
They say the Sheriff's Department claims it does not record attorney-client calls and that Securus' website states video visits are "secure and completely private" for attorneys.
"But in reality, Securus Technology and the sheriff's department do record confidential attorney-client communications," the complaint states. "They also disclose those recorded conversations to prosecutors in the Travis County and District Attorneys' Offices. In both offices, prosecutors have procured recordings of confidential attorney-client communication from the Sheriff's Department and/or Securus Technologies and listened to them. Some prosecutors have disclosed copies of those records to defense attorneys among other discovery materials; some have used that knowledge to their tactical advantage without admitting they obtained or listened to the recordings."
Plaintiffs' attorneys Brian McGiverin, with the Texas Civil Rights Project, and George Lobb, both of Austin, started looking into the attorneys' complaints a year ago, NBC affiliate KXAN reported.
"In terms of existing convictions that may have been secured with prosecutors' unlawful use of these recordings, that does open a big can of worms," McGiverin told the NBC station.
A spokesperson for the sheriff's declined to comment on the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs seeks damages for violations of the Federal Wiretap Act, the Texas Wiretap Act and the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments of the Constitution.
They also seek destruction of the jailhouse recordings and an injunction against any additional recordings.