Illegal Recording of Privileged Conversations - blue sound waves on a screen

What You Need to Know About Allegations of Illegal Recording in Alameda County

Last year

Sgt. James Russell, a 20-year veteran, was charged with four counts of eavesdropping for the recording of confidential communications of juveniles in an interview room at the Eden Township Sheriff’s substation on March 15th, and pleaded not guilty in December. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on July 23. After this revelation, one juvenile criminal case was thrown out and the district attorney’s office reviewed all others. 

This Week’s Allegation

Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods alleged on Monday that the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office has continued to intercept and record communications between jail inmates and their attorneys despite the issues that surfaced last year.

Woods alleged two instances when deputies captured privileged communications on their body-worn cameras. He also said issues with the phones used for no-contact visits in Santa Rita Jail may have led to deputies recording conversations. Read the letter here

Read the motion that the Public Defender’s office is filing asking the Alameda County Superior Court to order the Sheriff’s Office to stop eavesdropping or illegally recording attorney-client privileged communications – here.

Response from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department

On July 15, 2019, Tiela Chalmers (CEO of the ACBA) contacted the Sheriff’s Department for comment on the letter from Brendon Woods regarding the alleged recording of attorney-client conversations.  Below are Sargent Ray Kelly’s,  Public Information Officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, remarks:

Mr. Woods shared the letter with us but also simultaneously contacted the media, which blindsided us and didn’t give us enough time to respond.  We are responding to the letter, but here’s what I can say now.  The allegations are broad, and they require research.  They don’t contain details, and are largely speculation, so they are hard to track down. In our initial review and findings thus far, and we’re pretty confident on this, there were never any recordings made, ever.

The crux of this is that we were transitioning from an old telephone system to a new one.  This is not the telephone system that inmates use to call the outside world – this is the internal phone system that is used by people onsite to talk with inmates in the booths.  We are upgrading that system (and should be done at the end of July), using a vendor used by the majority of correctional institutions across the country. The upgrade targets 220 phones, as well as new software.  The system is designed to record conversations between inmates and visitors, but not between inmates and their attorneys.  Due to a software glitch, the admonition at the beginning of each phone call that the call may be recorded was also playing in the booths designated for attorney-client conversations.  We have since fixed that glitch, but we can assure your members that no attorney-client calls were recorded at all.  Our people were cautious to ensure no calls were accidentally recorded.  The glitch didn’t involve recording – it only involved the playing of the admonition.

With respect to Mr. Woods’ allegations about body cameras, we do not record conversations except for the initial as the deputy is getting the two parties together in the room, and that’s not privileged.  We do have body cams on when interacting with people, but we don’t record attorney-client conversations.  Much of this is based on the previous incident last year.  I’m not that there was malicious intent there, but the Penal Code is written such that it doesn’t require intent.

On the question of the Public Defender in the wheelchair, the attorney booths do accommodate a wheelchair.  We are happy to help any attorneys with such issues.

There are multiple layers within the judicial system to catch these, and no cop or DA would risk their career violating these laws.  It’s almost insulting, honestly.  Tell your membership that we have not found any of this to be true, and although the allegations are disturbing, they are not true. 

Response from the ACBA

Alameda County Bar Association Statement on Illegal Recording – March 2019

The Alameda County Bar Association strongly believes in the attorney-client privilege, and that our members and their clients must be free to have candid conversations without worry that these communications are subject to illegal recording. The ACBA takes seriously the allegations of illegal recording of attorney-client communications by a member of law enforcement. Any such recording is unacceptable and constitutes an interference with the attorney-client relationship.

The ACBA supports the efforts of our members and others in the criminal justice system who are investigating these allegations and helping to secure the Constitutional rights and access to justice for the clients served by our members.

Learn more about the Alameda County Bar Association on our website.