AUSTIN (KXAN) — A group of Austin lawyers and the Texas Civil Rights Project filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the Travis County jail of illegally recording private conversations between attorneys and their jailed clients.
Attorney-client calls are private according to federal laws.
“The right to speak privately with an attorney is one of the most cherished rights in our legal system,” said Brian McGiverin, who is representing the Austin Lawyers Guild in their suit.
Securus Technology, the private company that provides phone and video conference service for Travis County Jail and Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, records all conversations according to the lawsuit.
The company says they do not record inmate calls to attorneys but the lawsuit alleges that the conversations are recorded and provided to prosecutors in the Travis County and District Attorney’s offices.
McGiverin and attorney George Lobb say they started looking in to the complaints by local defense attorneys about a year ago.
“Since then it’s come to light that the Travis County Sheriff, through Securus, has made the recordings available to the county attorney and the district attorney,” Lobb said.
Some prosecutors have disclosed copies of the calls to defense attorneys while others have been secretly used by prosecutors in setting up their cases according to the allegations.
The Austin Lawyers Guild, who filed the suit, asks a federal judge to rule this practice unlawful and force Securus and the Travis County jail to destroy all recordings between attorneys and their clients.
KXAN reported in May of last year the county jail system moved to the video conferencing system, eliminating in-person visits. At the time one local defense attorney told us he was suspicious.
“This is just another erosion of our liberties,” said Benjamin Blackburn.
McGiverin and Lobb said Tuesday the scope of the lawsuit isn’t yet clear.
“In terms of existing convictions that may have been secured with prosecutors unlawful use of these recordings, that does open a big can of worms,” said McGiverin.
A spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office says they won’t comment about a pending lawsuit.