Three defense lawyers have sued the company that provides phone services in more than a dozen Maine jails, alleging that the company illegally recorded their calls with incarcerated clients.

Some of the confidential conversations were shared with jail personnel and prosecutors, the lawsuit says.

The company, Securus Technologies, has faced similar legal battles over recorded phone calls in other states, including Texas and California. Earlier this month, The Kansas City Star reported that Securus Technologies and a private prison operator had settled claims by attorneys and inmates for a total of more than $5 million.

The Maine attorneys filed the federal wiretapping lawsuit last week, and they have asked for class-action status to represent other lawyers as well. Conversations between an attorney and a client are supposed to be confidential. The plaintiffs are accusing the company of violating that standard by recording hundreds of calls.

“These recorded calls between an inmate and their attorney have often been turned over to the office of the Maine Attorney General and, upon information and belief, local District Attorneys responsible for criminal proceedings involving the inmate,” the complaint says. “The illegal interception and recording violates Maine and Federal recording and wiretapping laws.”

The three lawyers who filed the complaint are Jeremy Pratt, Robert Ruffner and John Tebbetts. They either did not respond to emails or phone calls Tuesday requesting interviews about the case or deferred to their own attorneys who are representing them in the lawsuit.

“We believe it’s a pervasive problem and a serious constitutional violation,” Bob Cummins, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said Tuesday.

An unidentified spokesperson for Securus Technologies said the company is unaware of any wrongdoing on their part and put the onus on the attorneys themselves.

In an email, the spokesperson said the call platform allows correctional agencies to classify attorney phone numbers as private, which means those calls would not be recorded. Calls to numbers not designated as private include a notification that the conversation will be recorded.

“If an attorney fails to provide their phone number to a facility and ignores that notification, the call will be recorded as designed and required by contract,” the spokesperson said.

The company has been working with the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services since earlier this year to create “a comprehensive list” of attorney numbers and make sure calls to those numbers are not recorded, the spokesperson said.

“We are troubled by any allegations of misuse of our technology, even if unintentional, which is why we are making substantial investments in improvements to our call system that will provide incarcerated individuals and their attorneys even more clarity regarding the status of private or non-private calls,” the spokesperson said. “We will also provide additional materials and avenues for educating the defense bar about the registration process.”

Allegations of illegally recorded calls in Maine jails were first reported last month by the Maine Monitor, formerly Pine Tree Watch.

The Securus Technologies website says it provides services for 14 of the 15 county jails in Maine. Most inmate calls are recorded and can be used as evidence in their cases, but Maine law prohibits investigators from interfering with attorney-client privilege. The complaint says the company failed to screen out the phone calls that inmates made to their attorneys.

Since July 2019, the company has recorded over 800 calls between attorneys and people incarcerated in Androscoggin, Aroostook, Franklin and Somerset county jails, according to the complaint. The plaintiffs said those calls included more than 150 inmates and 30 law firms or attorneys.

The complaint described several cases in which the attorneys learned their calls had been recorded. It does not include the names of any people who are incarcerated in the county jails.

In one instance, Pratt represents a client who is incarcerated at the Somerset County Jail. In April, a prosecutor from the Maine Attorney General’s Office contacted Pratt because he recognized the defense attorney’s voice on a recorded phone call from the jail. Pratt received a copy of that recording, the complaint says, but he does not know if other phone calls with his client also were recorded.

In another case, Tebbetts and Ruffner represent a client who is incarcerated in the Aroostook County Jail. In May, the Maine Attorney General’s Office contacted Ruffner to tell him that Securus gave them hundreds of recorded calls between the inmate and his attorneys. The Attorney General’s Office realized that mistake when a detective listened to the recordings and recognized Tebbetts’ voice.

“The representative from the AG’s office could not confirm how many of the calls were privileged,” the complaint says. “Instead, they provided Plaintiffs Ruffner and Tebbetts with a copy of the recorded calls and asked them to screen out privileged calls.”

The complaint said Tebbetts and his staff have confirmed several calls included privileged information. A spreadsheet attached to the lawsuit shows that dozens of calls had been listened to or downloaded.

It is not clear from the lawsuit whether the recordings have impacted individual cases so far or whether these allegations could taint any prosecutions.

The attorneys are asking the court to order Securus Technologies to stop recording inmate calls unless it can screen out attorney-client privilege calls. They have also asked that Securus produce copies of the recorded calls and destroy those that were illegally recorded.

“The Constitution and its mandates aren’t shut out of the jail,” Cummins said. “They apply within and without.”

Deputy Attorney General Lisa Marchese said the state’s prosecutors are aware of the lawsuit.

“In short, prosecutors do not want communications between attorneys and their clients at the jails recorded nor do we want copies of the recordings,” Marchese wrote in an email. “In those circumstances where recordings have inappropriately been provided to the state, the recording has not been listened to and the defense attorney has been immediately notified.”

Marchese also shared a copy of a letter the Maine Prosecutors Association sent last month to sheriffs and jail administrators, outlining the process for protecting attorney-client phone calls from recording. The letter says it is “imperative” for the jails to obtain all phone numbers and email addresses for defense attorneys whose clients are incarcerated.

“We would ask that you keep track of all attorney contact information so we can reduce the number of attorney-client calls that are recorded and improperly provided to law enforcement and the state,” District Attorney Andrew Robinson, the association’s president, wrote in the letter. “In turn, we have made the defense bar aware of the importance of keeping the jail up to date on contact information.”

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, who is president of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, did not return a voicemail left at his office Tuesday afternoon.


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