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Judge rules Nassau DA can get recordings of inmate calls without court order

A judge has revoked an order that had stopped the Nassau district attorney's office from getting phone recordings directly from the jail that could have included taped conversations between inmates and their lawyers.

State Supreme Court Justice Robert Bruno's Monday ruling canceled his temporary restraining order from October that had required prosecutors to get a court order to obtain privileged jail calls.

A Mineola law firm had alleged prisoners' rights were being violated because prosecutors could get recordings directly from the jail and then decide whether to stop listening if a recording captured a conversation between an inmate and a lawyer.

But Nassau prosecutors said it was office policy to "immediately stop listening" upon realizing that a recording involved an inmate and attorney, and along with jail officials, had opposed any changes.

Under Bruno's temporary order, a supervisory judge's staff had reviewed the DA's subpoenas for jail calls before the judge signed them if found to be proper.

Bruno decided that the law firm Raiser & Kenniff PC had standing to bring the civil proceeding -- which grew out of a client's 2013 criminal case -- and called the law protecting communication between a client and an attorney "a matter of great public interest." But in ruling for prosecutors and county officials, the judge said it was clear that the East Meadow jail notifies inmates that calls are recorded.

Bruno said attorneys are aware that their calls are also recorded unless they register their telephone numbers with the jail, and that a recording warns both caller and call recipient that the conversation will be taped when an inmate makes a call.

Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a prepared statement Wednesday she was pleased the judge recognized her office "did nothing wrong" and didn't violate any privileges by getting the recordings.

"We will continue to use this invaluable investigative tool to enhance our prosecutions," she said.

Nassau County Sheriff Michael Sposato said in a statement it had always been his department's position that jail officials "acted properly while respecting the legal rights of the inmates and their ability to communicate with their attorneys."

But attorney Steven Raiser said Wednesday that his firm is planning an appeal. He said the judge's decision left it up to prosecutors to decide "in secret, without any review" when attorney-client privilege is waived.

Under changes Raiser's firm had proposed, prosecutors would have had to subpoena an inmate's calls before the judge presiding in that inmate's case would review the recordings to eliminate privileged calls. Defense lawyers also would have been able to review jail phone logs for privileged calls and redact those recordings.

Prosecutors had argued such a system would thwart their ability to investigate crimes and fight witness intimidation.

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