Two former detainees at the Leavenworth Detention Center have filed a class action lawsuit over the taping of meetings and calls between inmates and their attorneys at the pretrial facility.
The lawsuit follows a similar one filed by two attorneys who alleged their phone calls and meetings with clients at the facility were taped.
The two lawsuits are the latest wrinkles in a snowballing controversy that has prompted a federal judge to order an investigation of the tapings and threatens to envelop, and possibly derail, scores of criminal cases.
Both suits seek a halt to the tapings, which the plaintiffs say violates their rights under the Sixth Amendment. And both seek at least $5 million in damages from the operator of the prison, CoreCivic Inc., and the company that provides it with phone services, Securus Technologies.
CoreCivic officials did not respond to a request for comment. Securus officials could not be reached for comment.
The detainee lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Ashley Huff and Gregory Rapp, who were formerly held at Leavenworth. The suit seeks class action status on behalf of detainees held there since June 1, 2012, “whose confidential communications with their attorneys were intercepted, disclosed or used by Defendants,” according to the complaint.
Huff and Rapp spent months in the Leavenworth Detention Center while awaiting trial on charges of conspiring to possess and distribute marijuana. Both pleaded guilty. Earlier this year, Huff was sentenced to 36 months in prison and Rapp to 10 years.
The lawyer lawsuit was filed last August by Adam Crane and David Johnson, both Kansas City-area attorneys, shortly after it was revealed that attorney-client meetings and phone calls had been video and audiotaped at Leavenworth. The plaintiffs have amended the suit several times since then.
Both lawsuits allege CoreCivic and Securus violated Missouri’s and Kansas’ wiretap statutes, as well as the federal wiretap law.
Joe Eischens, an attorney for the lawyer plaintiffs, says the case is important “because it touches on a very important constitutional privilege – the attorney-client privilege – and what it means to be represented by an attorney if you’re a criminal defendant.”
“Those are really, really, really important rights that need to be vindicated. And if there’s a deprivation of those rights through illegal taping, surreptitious taping, somebody needs to expose that,” he says.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson has appointed a special master – an independent, outside party – to investigate the scope of the video and audiotaping of privileged attorney-client meetings and phone calls at Leavenworth and to determine whether law enforcement authorities and prosecutors accessed them.
Until last week, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas had repeatedly said it had not listened to such recordings. But in a filing last week, it acknowledged that at least one prosecutor in that office had done so. The prosecutor, Erin S. Tomasic, is no longer with the office.
Dan Margolies is KCUR’s health editor. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.