Mom charged in NY death fights jail call recording

Phones at the city's Rikers Island jail complex have signs and play messages warning inmates that their calls can be monitored and recorded

By Jennifer Peltz
The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A pharmaceuticals multimillionaire charged with murdering her autistic 8-year-old son at a hotel has lost a bid to stop jail officials from recording her phone calls and turning them over to prosecutors.

Phones at the city's Rikers Island jail complex have signs and play messages warning inmates that their calls can be monitored and recorded. But lawyers for Gigi Jordan, who's been held without bail since her son's February 2010 prescription drug overdose death, argue that jail officials have no authority to record calls without a warrant because city Department of Correction regulations mention only listening and monitoring, not recording.

While inmates' calls to lawyers are off-limits, Jordan's attorneys say recording her conversations with friends and relatives invades her privacy and prosecutors could mine the calls for insights that could give them an advantage at a future trial. Jordan, who was found incoherent alongside her dead son in a luxury Manhattan hotel suite, acknowledges killing him but says she was justified in ending his life and trying to kill herself to save them both from people she feared were after them.

"(Prosecutors) can find out everything about her sex life, about her attitude toward her mother, about everything they want to find out. There's no basis for that in law," one of her attorneys, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, said at a civil court hearing Friday.

Jordan, who's from Belgium, made a fortune as a pharmaceutical company executive before quitting her work to dedicate herself to her severely autistic son, Jude Mirra. She sued jail officials and prosecutors in civil court after the judge in her criminal case said that she'd implicitly consented to the recording by using the phone but added that criminal court wasn't the right place for a broader argument about the legality of the recording.

The Department of Correction notes that other courts have said prisons can record inmates' calls, and the agency says Correction Board members' comments during a November 2007 hearing made it clear that they understood "monitoring" to entail recording, since it would otherwise be impossible to keep tabs on roughly 13,000 inmates' calls.

"This argument is sublimely frivolous, to suggest that the Board of Correction didn't intend the Department of Correction to be able to record 13,000 inmates a day for security purposes," city lawyer Martin Bowe said at Friday's hearing.

The jail agency and the Manhattan district attorney's office also argued that the civil court judge couldn't rule on an issue a criminal court peer had already decided. The civil court judge, state Supreme Court Justice Anil C. Singh, agreed and added that while "the regulation does not expressly authorize the recordings," the agency has to be "given deference" to interpret its own rules.

Jordan plans to appeal, said her lawyers, Dershowitz and Ronald Kuby.


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