Report: Phone carrier improperly recorded jail calls in Fla., Ga.
Thousands of inmate calls to defense attorneys were recorded in 2015, 2017
By Tony Saavedra and Scott Schwebke
The Orange County Register
ORANGE COUNTY, Ga. — The telephone carrier that improperly recorded 1,079 attorney-client calls from the Orange County jail made the same mistake twice before in Florida, according to court testimony Thursday.
George McNitt, vice president of technical services for GTL, testified that calls between inmates and their attorneys were mistakenly recorded in Pinellas and Charlotte counties.
In a 14-page internal affairs report, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged in 2015 that 246 inmate calls were unintentionally recorded by GTL due to a software update that failed to add the phone numbers of defense attorneys to a “do not record” list. Recorded phone calls were accessed by 19 users, including the jail’s investigator, who retrieved the majority of the calls.
“Those internal members which were unintentionally exposed to the recorded phone calls followed policy by immediately disconnecting the call once it was apparent it involved a telephone conversation between an inmate and a law firm,” the report says.
In a March 2015 letter to the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office, McNitt wrote that the company enhanced its quality assurance program to correct the computer glitch. “GTL remains committed to implementing any appropriate changes to our systems, to identify and prevent other problems,” the letter states.
No one at the sheriff’s office was disciplined and no criminal convictions or pending cases were thrown out because of the lapse, said Scott Weinberg, a criminal defense attorney in Punta Gorda, Florida, who represented an inmate whose phone calls were accessed.
Weinberg believes the Sheriff’s Department acted properly, but maintains the computer problem had the potential for exploitation by law enforcement and prosecutors.
“If someone nefarious wanted to access recordings, they could access them and no one would know,” he said Thursday in a phone interview.
A GTL system in place at the Pinellas County Jail has the capability to capture all inmate phone calls, but the Sheriff’s Department has said none of those placed to defense attorneys has been being recorded, said Karen Rittenhouse, chief public defender for the Sixth Judicial Circuit.
“Are we blindly accepting that? Yes, but we haven’t had a problem,” she said.
In Thursday’s Orange County hearing, defense attorney Joel Garson asked McNitt if GTL notified its other customers nationwide of the gaffe.
“No, we did not” McNitt said. “We had no reason to believe it was happening anywhere else.”
But it happened again in Orange County, with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens saying she learned about the breach in mid-June.
“The facts show that this is an error by a third-party contractor. We anticipate that this will be exploited by some to perpetuate an anti-law enforcement narrative,” Hutchens said. “We are confident that those who look at this situation objectively will recognize an error does not constitute a conspiracy.”
However, GTL records show Orange County deputies listened to or downloaded attorney-client recordings 77 times. One deputy accessed the recordings 33 times.
McNitt said the Orange County breach occurred the same way as in Florida. “Human error” caused workers not to import 1,300 attorney phone numbers onto a “do not record ” list during a software upgrade in 2015.
McNitt was on the witness stand Thursday as part of the attempted murder case against Joshua Waring, son of “Real Housewives of Orange County” former cast member Lauri Peterson.
At least two of Waring’s calls were recorded.
Conversations between attorneys and their clients are considered privileged — one of the most sacred tenets in the law.