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$1.45 million settlement in taping of Kansas inmate calls

August 26, 2019

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Inmates who alleged their calls with attorneys were illegally recorded at the Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas have reached a proposed settlement with the prison operator and the provider of the phone and video system.

The settlement, which needs court approval to become final, comes less than two weeks after a federal judge issued a ruling lambasting some prosecutors in the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas City, Kansas, for illegally listening to the recorded calls. The ruling could impact hundreds of federal convictions and inmates.

The settlement calls for CoreCivic Inc., which owns and operates the prison, to pay $1.1 million into a settlement fund. Securus Technologies, provider of phone and video at the prison, will pay $350,000 into the fund for the inmates, KCUR reported .

About a third of the settlement would go to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, with the rest distributed among about 539 current and former Leavenworth inmates. Some inmates could get up to $10,000.

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 asked that those calls be private.

“It’s a significant settlement for the detainees,” said Kansas City attorney Bob Horn, who represented the plaintiffs.

Kansas City attorney Amy Fitts, who represented CoreCivic, declined to comment, according to KCUR. CoreCivic previously claimed that it did nothing wrong because a pre-recorded message warned inmates that outgoing calls might be recorded.

The recordings were brought to light more than three years ago by the Federal Public Defender in Kansas.

Two former detainees at the center, Ashley Huff and Gregory Rapp, sued over two years ago, seeking at least $5 million in damages for alleged violations of state and federal wiretap laws. They alleged that CoreCivic and Securus continued to record attorney-client phone calls even after U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson in 2016 ordered CoreCivic to halt the practice.

That lawsuit came after two attorneys sued over the recorded calls. It was later certified as a class action lawsuit and remains pending.

On Aug. 15, 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 wrote that evidence indicated the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a “systematic practice of purposeful collection, retention and exploitation of calls” made between detainees and their attorneys.

Because of the ruling, people charged with or convicted of federal crimes could have their sentences reduced or their cases dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct and violations of the attorney-client privilege. Those cases will be considered on an individual basis.

Robinson’s ruling included a method to review petitions from defendants claiming their Sixth Amendment rights to counsel were violated. At least 110 such petitions have been filed to date, and the federal public defender has told the court that more petitions are expected.

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