Back in August, the Orange County Board of Supervisors ordered an investigation into how over 1,000 inmate phone calls with their legal counsel were improperly recorded. Beginning in 2015, the county jail's contractor for inmate phone services, Global Tel Link, began recording these calls, which are supposed to remain private.
Back then, Global Tel Link admitted to recording 1,079 such calls, of which the Sherrif's Department accessed 58 of them, and another 87 accessed by phone company investigators over a three-year period. Now, it turns out those 1,079 recorded calls were a gross underestimation.
This month it was revealed that actually 33,812 calls were recorded and the Sheriff's Department accessed these confidential conversations 347 times. It's currently unclear whether those 347 accessed calls represent individual conversations or whether some calls were accessed several times.
Global Tel Link Contract Renewed
As shocking as the amount of violations are, and the fact that the initial report was off by over 3000 percent, that Global Tel Link just had its contract renewed to continue providing phone services for the Orange County Jail is even more appalling. A Sheriff's Department spokeswoman said the total number of attorney-client calls recorded were not revealed earlier because they were under a court seal. However, assistant public defender Scott Sanders, who uncovered the Orange County “snitch scandal” in the Scott Dekraai mass murder case, believes that even more calls were recorded by Global Tel Link and accessed by the Sheriff's Department. He notes there's been no plausible explanation for the massive change in numbers.
Although Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who is leaving her position shortly, blamed the communications provider for this severe breach of attorney-client privilege, the Board of Supervisors extended Global Tel Link's contract on November 6, 2018 by a 3-to-1 vote.
Hutchens characterized the multiple violations as an “error” by Global Tel Link, an error that the company has not or cannot fully explain, but that it did not constitute “a conspiracy by law enforcement.” Bizarrely, Global Tel Link is sticking by its original number of 1,079 recorded calls even though the OC Sheriff has already admitted to the 33,812 number. A spokesman admitted that the calls that were recorded were from numbers given to the company by attorneys for a do-not-record list.
The Defeat of Tony Rackauckas
On Election Day – the same day on which the Board of Supervisors voted to extend Global Tel Link's contract – Todd Spitzer defeated 20-year incumbent Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas presided over a culture that tolerated illegal actions by prosecutors and deputies, as in the notorious Dekraai case. Even though there was little doubt that Dekraai killed eight people, including his wife, in a Seal Beach beauty salon shooting, the Orange County Sheriff's Department used jailhouse snitches to obtain information from Dekraai. It is illegal for law enforcement to take such actions, but Rackauckas, at a minimum, looked the other way.
Spitzer is a Global Tel Link critic who didn't want the company's contract renewed. Spitzer has said that, in his new role as DA, he cannot comment on the matter publicly. A special master was appointed by Superior Court Judge Gregg Prickett to investigate the issue, and a second special master was recently appointed. Let's hope they can get to the bottom of this ethics disaster and that the appropriate parties are held accountable and, if appropriate, charged with crimes just like anyone else who breaks the law.