Court Watch NOLA says attorney-client calls are recorded at Orleans Parish Jail

NEW ORLEANS - While the number of victims of crime incarcerated for failing to comply with the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office has declined, calls to attorneys from jail are still being recorded, according to Court Watch NOLA.

The all-volunteer court watchdog group released their 2017 report this morning.

Only three victims were incarcerated by the Orleans District Attorney’s Office in 2017, down from seven in 2016, and no sex crimes victims were incarcerated last year.

However, despite repeated requests, calls between inmates at the Orleans Parish Jail and their attorneys are still being recorded and handed over to the DA’s Office, Court Watch NOLA claims.

“What Court Watch NOLA has discovered is that these desperate calls for help between an attorney and their client, the sheriff’s office is recording them,” Court Watch NOLA Executive Director Simone Levine said. “Not recording some of them, but all of them, turning them over to the District Attorney’s Office. The same office prosecuting the client.”

The Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office responded to Court Watch NOLA's accusations Tuesday afternoon with the following statement:

Blake Arcuri, general counsel of Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office regarding attorney-client calls:

“We conduct attorney visits in up to seven separate rooms in the jail. All attorney visits are privileged and non-recorded. We allow visitation 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

The Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office does provide a means by which attorneys can opt to use a land-line to conduct privileged, non-recorded telephone calls with their clients. Attorneys receive an excess of 3,200 privileged calls per month through that system, and it continues to expand. This feature does not currently extend to mobile devices due to the security concerns surrounding the mobility and transferability of those devices, as well as the lack of technological features capable of providing the level of security we expect with respect to all inmate communications.

While one would assume that the Sheriff’s Office could simply rely upon the integrity of attorneys to comply with the rules, we have unfortunately encountered several situations in the past where attorneys and their staff members have made three-way calls at the request of their clients, have been involved in conspiracies to commit crimes in the jail facilities, and have participated in the introduction of contraband into the jail. Additionally, there has been more than one situation in the recent past where attorneys have abused their level of privileged access to engage in conversations with inmates whom they did not represent, including with inmates who were testifying witnesses against their clients. Some of these violations have resulted in restrictions on future inmate access, disciplinary proceedings, or arrests. The safety of our staff, inmates and the general public will remain a much higher priority than any simple convenience to attorneys, all of whom have access to their clients in Orleans Justice Center vastly beyond the requirements of state and federal law. We anticipate and hope that attorneys will continue to participate in the program, which allows privileged telephonic communications with their clients at any time of day.

We will continue to provide additional means of access as we evaluate new technologies capable of providing the level of security we expect.”

One local sheriff set up a system that allows some calls to select attorneys’ landlines to go unrecorded, but all calls to cell phones are still recorded, according to the report.

A comprehensive survey of 47 city jails across the country revealed that 83 percent of those jails do not record attorney-client calls, no matter what type of phone system is used.