SANTA ANA (CNS) - Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens today pledged to ask the county's Office of Independent Review to review how more than 1,000 inmate phone calls over a three-year period were wrongly recorded by sheriff's deputies in violation of the defendants' attorney-client privilege.
The issue came to light in the case of Joshua Waring, the son of a former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member, who is charged with attempted murder.
Hutchens said in a statement that she became aware of the problem in June of this year.
“I was made aware of a technical issue with the contractor who provides phone services to inmates in the Orange County Jail,” Hutchens said, referring to Global Tel Link Corp.
“Since that time, I have discovered the scope of the technical error that occurred during an upgrade resulted in the recording of 1,079 inmate telephone calls to numbers that should have been designated as `do not record,' “ Hutchens said.
Hutchens noted that each call was “prefaced with a warning that calls were `subject to monitoring and recording,' “ but, she added, “we know that these calls never should have been recorded by GTL.”
Sheriff's officials have “immediately directed GTL to correct the issue,” Hutchens said.
Hutchens said that before June the company had not alerted her about the problem.
“We rely on many third-party vendors to provide vital services to our department,” Hutchens said. “It is my expectation that the vendors comply with the requirements of the contracts they agree to, and that they meet the requirements of those contracts.”
Hutchens said she was “deeply disappointed that this technical glitch by GTL occurred.”
She added she is “concerned about the serious consequences it may bring.”
Waring is asking a judge to dismiss his attempted murder case based on a claim of outrageous governmental misconduct. His lawyer believes about 50 cases could be in jeopardy because of the breach.
Michelle Van Der Linden, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney's Office, said her office first learned of the issue this week, though prosecutors have been litigating the issue with Garson since he filed his outrageous governmental misconduct motion at the end of January.
“It is out understanding that the (sheriff's department) is looking into the matter further to better understand the scope of the issue and will be providing more detail to the court,” Van Der Linden said.
“We will review that information and any impacts it may have. The OCDA is committed to taking any and all appropriate discovery-related actions on all impacted cases depending on the information received from (the sheriff's department).”
In a letter to the sheriff dated July 27, the contractor said a software update in the system in January 2015 caused a “technical error” that led to 1,079 inmate phone calls being recorded.
“After conducting research, we have determined that the Sheriff's Department staff, and in certain circumstances (Global Tel Link Corp.), for investigative or technical purposes, accessed 58 of those 1,079 recorded calls a total of 87 times,” wrote Darren Wallace, executive vice president of operations for GTL.
The company had a list of about 1,200 attorneys whose numbers were supposed to be blocked from recording, and after the software upgrade, that number dropped to 72, Garson said.
Hutchens' statement on Thursday led Garson to “question how this could have been going on for three years... Eighty-seven calls were actually accessed and no one told Sheriff Hutchens or anyone in the chain of command that they were accidentally getting attorney client phone calls?”
It appears at least two of Waring's phone calls may have been recorded, Garson said.
Prosecutors and sheriff's officials have been struggling to make sense of data sent to them by GTL as well as getting an executive from the company in court to testify about the issue.
Authorities generally only order recordings on inmate calls for defendants facing serious crimes such as murder and gang-related violence, Garson said.
Garson discovered the issue when a Costa Mesa police officer submitted a 40-page report summarizing Waring's phone calls. Prosecutors in February argued that Garson's motion to dismiss charges should be denied because Waring did not invoke his privilege to private calls. They argued there is a boilerplate announcement letting inmates know the calls are being recorded.
Waring, 29, represented himself from Nov. 29 to Dec. 28, 2016.
Authorities are no longer recording calls to the attorneys, officials said.
Waring represented himself during a preliminary hearing in which he was ordered to stand trial in early December 2016. Garson later took over as Waring's attorney and got the case dismissed, but prosecutors refiled it earlier this year, and after another preliminary hearing, Waring was again ordered to stand trial on three counts of attempted murder, with sentencing enhancement allegations of premeditation and deliberation and shooting a gun causing great bodily injury.
The son of Lauri Peterson, who was a “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member from its debut in 2006 until 2008, is accused of shooting then-35-year-old Daniel Lopez outside a home in Costa Mesa on June 20, 2016. Two other people escaped injury in the drive-by attack.