Suit: Nassau DA should disclose security of online portal for evidence exchange
A new federal lawsuit has alleged Nassau's district attorney and the county are trampling defendants' rights because lawyers for the accused must agree to a software vendor's undisclosed terms in an electronic portal where evidence is exchanged.
A lawyer for plaintiff David Adhami, a Great Neck attorney, also said the system could be jeopardizing sensitive personal records of not only defendants, but victims, witnesses and grand jurors.
District Attorney Madeline Singas put the portal in place for the exchange of discovery — or evidence — due to reform laws that took effect in January that require prosecutors to turn over records much earlier in a criminal case.
Her office defended the new electronic system in a statement Wednesday, saying in part that it is secure.
But Victor Yannacone Jr., one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, said he wants details about the level of the security measures. He added that it’s unclear whether the vendor of the software system known as JustWare has access to the confidential records.
“The Nassau County district attorney has created a situation where secret materials that should remain undisclosed to the public until they are produced at trial … are now in the hands of a third party, about which we know very little,” Yannacone said in an interview.
The Patchogue lawyer added that there are “no guarantees that there are cybersecurity provisions in place.”
Yannacone, who is working with Melville attorney Cory Morris for the plaintiff, also said there was “no guarantee that the third-party provider is not aggregating information from these confidential materials and using them for commercial purposes.”
He said materials that could be part of discovery exchanges include addresses of witnesses, medical reports with protected information and “a tremendous amount of information from the victim.”
But Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said Wednesday that the new portal system is not only secure but saves time.
“Like thousands of prosecutors’ offices nationwide, we established a secure electronic discovery portal that has been welcomed by most defense attorneys who value its speed and efficiency. To date, defense attorneys have successfully downloaded more than 10,630 discovery packets for 5,303 cases,” Sholder added in a statement.
Singas’ spokeswoman also said other options for discovery exchange were available and defense attorneys could opt not to use the system.
“Those who choose not to utilize the secure electronic discovery portal can obtain materials for their clients through other methods including hard copies or flash drives,” Sholder said.
The lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of New York last month, also names as defendants Journal Technologies Inc. and Daily Journal Corporation, the entities behind the software.
Rockville Centre attorney Andrew Karamouzis, who represents those parties, said Wednesday that they had no comment on the pending litigation.
Nassau county officials didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Adhami, who ran unsuccessfully for Nassau’s legislature in 2017, didn’t answer an email requesting comment Wednesday.
His federal complaint said a Freedom of Information Law request filed with Singas’ office in February didn’t yield any more information about security measures in the electronic system.
It said Jed Painter, general counsel at Singas’ office, replied in part by saying the software “acts as an internal case management system for the office and additionally may allow limited access of that system to outside parties for a specific aspect of a given case (i.e. items marked as discovery).”
That access, Painter reportedly said, “is granted through normal internet processes.”
The complaint said Painter then added: “I also want to note the obvious — that extensive detailing of security protocols is itself a breach of security.”
Yannacone, who wants to make the case a class-action lawsuit, said the matter could go away quickly if the district attorney’s office gave certain assurances about the type of security that may be in place.
“This case … can just go away in a matter of minutes if Nassau will produce some evidence that they are in control of content, that the third-party provider does not ever see or touch the content and only provides a computer portal,” he said.
Records show the defendants haven’t yet filed responses to the complaint with the court.