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Class Action Suit Over Recorded Calls At Leavenworth Prison Settles For $3.7 Million

100118_leavenworth_detention_center_entrance.jpg_dan margolies
Dan Margolies
KCUR 89.3
The entrance to Leavenworth Detention Center, where detainees who can't make bail are held while awaiting trial.

The lawsuits was sparked by disclosures that privileged attorney-client phone calls and meetings were recorded at the Leavenworth Detention Center.

Updated: August 6, 2020 at 9:55 AM CDT
This story was updated to include comments from CoreCivic, Securus and attorneys for the plaintiffs.

Another settlement has been reached over the illicit recordings of attorney-client meetings and phone calls at the pretrial prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

The settlement calls for the private operator of the prison, CoreCivic Inc., and the operator of its phone system, Securus Technologies Inc., to pay $3.7 million to resolve a class action lawsuit brought four years ago by attorneys whose conversations with their clients were recorded.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Steven Bough gave preliminary approval to the deal, which covers the claims of roughly 750 attorneys.

The resolution follows a similar settlement reached a year ago between the same two companies and inmates whose calls and meetings with their attorneys were recorded. That deal called for CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, and Securus to pay $1.45 million into a settlement fund for the inmates.

Both class action lawsuits were sparked by disclosures that privileged attorney-client phone calls and meetings were audio- and videotaped at the Leavenworth Detention Center, a sprawling complex that holds men and women charged with federal crimes who can’t make bail.

Lawyers regularly meet with their clients there to review their cases. The lawsuits alleged the recordings of their meetings and phone calls, which are supposed to be private, violated federal and state wiretap laws.

Ryan Gustin, a spokesman for CoreCivic, said in an email that the company was "deeply committed to being a valued part of the Leavenworth community."

"We’ve worked hard with all parties to resolve this issue in a professional and courteous manner and maintain there was no wrongdoing on the part of our company or our professionals," he said.

Jade Trombetta, a spokeswoman for Securus said there was no evidence the company engaged in any wrongdoing, “intentional or otherwise.”

“Our call platform allows attorneys to work with correctional agencies to classify their phone numbers as private and prevent calls to their numbers from being recorded,” Trombetta said in an email. “If phone numbers are not entered into the system as private, both parties are notified prior to call acceptance via prompt that the call will be recorded. At Leavenworth Detention Center, it appears that the attorneys’ phone numbers were not put into the system, the notification was not heeded, and the calls were recorded as designed.”

The recordings first came to light four years ago in a criminal case alleging that guards, inmates and outside parties had smuggled drugs and contraband into the facility.

In August 2019, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson held the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas in contempt for disobeying her orders to preserve documents and recordings as part of an investigation she launched after the Federal Public Defender’s office in Kansas brought the recordings to light.

In a scathing opinion, Robinson wrote there was evidence that the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a “systematic practice of purposeful collection, retention and exploitation of calls” made between detainees and their attorneys.

The Justice Department has appealed her ruling. Meanwhile, scores of Leavenworth inmates who were convicted of crimes are seeking to have their cases thrown out based on their claims of prosecutorial misconduct and violations of attorney-client privilege.

The class action lawsuit on behalf of the attorneys was brought by two local lawyers, Adam Crane and David Johnson. The settlement covers attorneys who represented clients detained at Leavenworth and whose calls or meetings were recorded starting in August 2013 and extending in some cases to mid-2017.

Michael Hodgson, one of the attorneys who brought the suit, said the settlement was the product of four years of “pretty contested litigation.”

“And I think more important than the money, there are some serious changes being implemented in the way attorneys and clients are able to interact while they’re incarcerated at Leavenworth,” he said.

Lance Sandage, another attorney involved in filing the suit, said the attorneys involved in the litigation “believe very strongly that we have to preserve the attorney-client privilege.”

Sandage said any unclaimed settlement funds will be distributed to Legal Aid of Western Missouri and Kansas Legal Services, “which are two organizations that are generally involved in preserving client rights.”

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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