Lewiston attorney sues over jail cell phone records

The Androscoggin County Jail telephone area displays signs stating that every telephone call is monitored and recorded. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

AUBURN — A Lewiston attorney is suing Androscoggin County for failing to turn over jail records of recorded phone calls an inmate made.

Criminal defense attorney Jesse James Ian Archer filed a Freedom of Access Act request for phone records from November and December of an inmate who was not his client.

Archer was researching the records on behalf of a client that Archer is representing as a court-appointed attorney.

His request was denied by an Androscoggin County attorney, who also represents Androscoggin County Jail.

According to court documents, Archer’s request for records was answered by Peter Marchesi who wrote that the release of those records “could constitute an unreasonable invasion of the privacy of those involved”.

In his complaint, filed in Androscoggin County Superior Court, Archer’s attorney, Verne Paradie, wrote that Archer was appealing to that court the denial of his request for records.

Paradie explained in her complaint that Marchesi’s response either means the prison has invaded inmates’ privacy or is refusing to turn over public records in violation of state laws.

“Interestingly, the prison records all calls from non-lawyer/client inmates and indicates that the calls are not private,” Paradie wrote in the complaint.

“Furthermore, upon simple verbal request, the prison provides any appeals requested by prosecutors,” he said.

He continued, “The county’s position at the plaintiff’s request means either the county violated the privacy rights of all inmates by providing the appeals to prosecutors, or the information is subject to disclosure as requested by the applicant.”

Paradie wrote that the documents Archer was looking for “are public records” and that Archer is entitled to a court order directing the county to release the documents to him.

If the court were to determine that recordings of inmate calls are not public, then “the county shall be prohibited from recording and broadcasting any further inmate calls to prosecutors and the county is liable to hundreds of inmates for violating their privacy,” Paradie wrote. .

In the complaint, Archer asks that a judge issue an order ordering the county to release the inmates’ phone records and award Archer costs and attorney’s fees.

Marchesi responded to the county’s complaint, writing that Archer should subpoena the phone records of the inmates he is looking for, not simply a request for public records.

“Providing records of an inmate’s telephone calls to an attorney who does not represent the inmate would violate Maine’s law on the interception of wired and oral communications,” Marchesi wrote.

“Second, and beyond the legal prohibition, providing the requested recordings would result in an unreasonable invasion of privacy,” Marchesi wrote.

“Finally, this is not an appropriate request under (the Freedom of Access Act) because the records sought are not ‘public records,'” he wrote.

Marchesi wrote that state law “permits prison investigators to intercept and disclose inmate phone calls in limited circumstances.”

He quoted this law: “It is not a violation of this chapter for a prison investigator, as defined in this chapter, or for a prison employee acting under the direction of a prison investigator, to intercept , disclose or use this communication. in the ordinary course of employment while carrying on an activity related to the administration of criminal justice”.

Marchesi also wrote that state law permits the contents of “the interception of any oral communication or any wired communication that was lawfully obtained…to be disclosed to a state agency if related to the statutory functions of this agency”.

For this reason, Marchesi wrote, the law allows the prison to turn over these records to prosecutors.

“On the other hand, the disclosure of a detainee’s telephone calls to a private attorney is not an authorized use of intercepted communications, as it has no connection with the administration of criminal justice,” Marchesi wrote. .

He said the party requesting the phone records must “demonstrate at least a modicum of public interest in the content of the requested records that outweighs the privacy interests at issue.”

Marchesi wrote that “there is no identifiable public interest in the disclosure of the recordings in this case”.

Androscoggin County Jail Administrator Maj. Jeffrey Chute said the county has contracts with Securus Technologies, a prison communications company, for its phone system used by inmates.

All phone calls made by inmates include a voicemail message at the start of the call that lets them know their calls are being recorded, Chute said.

Detectives from the Andrscoggin County Sheriff’s Office and a “small group” of jail employees can listen to the call recordings from their computers equipped with the necessary software to access the stored recordings, Chute said. They must obtain approval from a supervisor by demonstrating the need for a particular recording, he said.

Detectives or authorized deputies listen to calls to investigate crimes such as bail violations or prohibited contact with alleged victims, he said.

A prosecutor or defense attorney can request a recording directly from a detective by way of discovery for a criminal case or by seeking a recording from the courts, he said.

Chute said defense attorneys can prevent their calls with clients from being recorded by registering their phone numbers with Securus or the jail in advance.

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