Less than two weeks after a judge issued a blistering opinion on the taping of attorney-client conversations at the Leavenworth Detention Center, a settlement has been reached with inmates who alleged their calls were illegally recorded.
The settlement, which needs court approval before it becomes final, calls for the private operator of the prison and the provider of its phone system to pay $1.45 million into a settlement fund for the inmates.
The case was filed more than two years ago by two former detainees at the center, Ashley Huff and Gregory Rapp, who alleged their “confidential communications with their attorneys were intercepted, disclosed or used by Defendants.”
The suit named CoreCivic Inc., which owns and runs the facility, and Securus Technologies, which contracts with the prison to provide phone and video conferencing services. The plaintiffs sought at least $5 million in damages for alleged violations of state and federal wiretap laws.
The suit followed a similar one filed by two attorneys who alleged their phone calls and meetings with clients at the facility were recorded. In September, U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough certified the case as a class action. That suit is pending.
Under the terms of the inmate settlement, CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, will pay $1.1 million into the settlement fund and Securus will pay $350,000. About a third of the money will go to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The balance will be distributed among roughly 539 current and former Leavenworth inmates. A few may be eligible for up to $10,000 in payments.
“It’s a significant settlement for the detainees,” said Kansas City attorney Bob Horn, who represented the plaintiffs.
Amanda Gilchrist, a spokeswoman for CoreCivic, acknowledged the settlement and said the agreement "should not be interpreted as an admission of wrongdoing or liability."
Securus officials did not respond to a request for comment.
In the past, CoreCivic has claimed it did nothing wrong because it said outgoing calls subject to recording were preceded by a pre-recorded message to that effect.
The settlement comes after U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas in contempt for disobeying her orders to preserve documents and recordings as part of an investigation into the recordings at the prison.
Robinson, who launched the investigation three years ago after the Federal Public Defender in Kansas brought the recordings to light, wrote there was evidence the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a “systematic practice of purposeful collection, retention and exploitation of calls” made between detainees and their attorneys.
More than 100 people charged with or convicted of federal crimes could have their sentences reduced or their cases dropped based on their claims of prosecutorial misconduct and violations of the attorney-client privilege. Those cases will be taken up on an individual basis.
In their lawsuit, Huff and Rapp alleged that CoreCivic and Securus continued to record attorney-client phone calls even after Robinson in 2016 ordered CoreCivic to halt the practice.
The settlement covers all detainees at the Leavenworth Detention Center whose calls with their attorneys were recorded between June 1, 2014, and June 19, 2017, and who had specifically requested that those calls be private.
This story was updated to include the comments of a CoreCivic spokeswoman.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter@DanMargolies.