Skip navigation

Austin Lawyers Guild et al v. Securus et al, TX, Amended Complaint, illegal telephone recording, 2014

Download original document:
Brief thumbnail
This text is machine-read, and may contain errors. Check the original document to verify accuracy.
Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 1 of 13


WILLIAMS, for themselves and those
similarly situated; and the PRISON

and GREG HAMILTON, in his official
LEHMBERG, in her official capacity; and
official capacity.

Cause No. 1:14-cv-00366-LY

Plaintiffs respectfully file this lawsuit to stop the Sheriff and Securus Technologies from
illegally recording attorneys’ confidential calls with their clients in the county jail then
unlawfully disclosing those recordings to prosecutors, and to stop prosecutors from illegally
using those recordings, and will show:

Jurisdiction is conferred on this Court by 28 U.S.C. §§1331, 1343.


Venue in this Court is proper because Defendants reside in this judicial district; and

the relevant events occurred in Travis County, Texas. 28 U.S.C. §1391

Carl Gossett, David Grassbaugh, Mark Sampson, and Francis Williams are

attorneys who routinely represent clients housed in the downtown Travis County Jail (TCJ) and

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 2 of 13

the Travis County Correctional Complex (TCCC) in Del Valle regarding criminal matters
pending in local courts. They routinely speak with those clients remotely via telephone and
videoconferencing services provided at TCJ and TCCC exclusively by Securus Technologies.
There are 966 attorneys routinely practicing criminal defense in Austin. Virtually all are in the
same position. Moreover, of the 10,896 other attorneys in Austin, many will ultimately represent
one or more pretrial detainees in a criminal defense matter.

The Austin Lawyers Guild (ALG) is membership-based, incorporated non-profit

organization, which includes a substantial number of Austin criminal defense attorneys. Its
purpose, as set out in its bylaws, is to “promote the public interest, civil rights, and social
justice.” ALG’s members face substantially the same risk of eavesdropping as the individual
Plaintiffs and the larger defense community.

Similarly, the Prison Justice League (PJL) is also a membership-based, incorporated

non-profit organization. Its members include people detained in TCCC. PJL’s mission is to
improve conditions of incarceration through “litigation, advocacy, and empowering [its]
members.” PJL’s members at TCCC all face substantially the same risk that calls with their
attorneys will be unlawfully monitored, recorded, and used against them.

Travis County Sheriff’s Department and Greg Hamilton, the Sheriff, operate TCJ

and TCCC and are responsible for the detainees held there. They are also responsible for all
programing and services in the jail, including telephone and video communications, for which
they have contracted with the private entity Securus Technologies.

Securus Technologies, Inc. is a private corporation, founded and headquartered in

Dallas, Texas. It has contracts with prisons and jails across the nation, including in Travis
County, to provide telephone and video conferencing services for detainees.

The Travis County Attorney’s Office and David Escamilla, the County Attorney,

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 3 of 13

prosecute misdemeanors in Travis County. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office and
Rosemary Lehmberg, the District Attorney, prosecute felonies in Travis County.

A person arrested in Austin or Travis County is typically brought to TCJ downtown

to be booked. TCJ is run by the Sheriff’s Department. In most cases, if the Sheriff’s Department
plans to hold that person for more than a short time, it soon transfers the individual to TCCC in
Del Valle, Texas.

Attorneys routinely contact their clients in both TCJ and TCCC by phone or

videoconference to discuss confidential matters. They do so with the understanding their
conversations are private. Similarly, detainees understand remote conversations with their
attorneys are confidential and not recorded.

TCJ and TCCC’s phone and videoconferences services are provided by Securus

Technologies. It charges families and others in the free world for the privilege of speaking with a
detainee. It shares a large cut of those payments with Travis County, which adds up to significant
profit for both entities.

During those calls, Securus Technologies records communications between

detainees and the outside world, relying on a set of servers, electronic storage, cables, and
software separate from what is used to simply connect the callers. The equipment it uses to
intercept, record, and share detainees’ calls neither facilitates those telephone calls, nor are the
recordings a necessary incident of the calls.

Securus Technologies stores recordings in a computer server, to which it gives local

law enforcement agencies – including the Sheriff’s Department, the District Attorney’s Office,
and the County Attorney’s Office —direct online access. They are able to review any recorded
call at their leisure.

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 4 of 13


Recording detainees’ calls is required by Securus Technologies’ contract with

Travis County, which states that in the course of administering detainee phone services:

“[Securus Technologies] shall provide inmate call recording and tracking”


The recording and tracking must allow the Sheriff “to obtain a report of all calls from
inmates’ phones to a specific destination and then obtain a recording of the contents
of the calls if needed”


“[Securus Technologies] shall provide a storage method for the contents of inmate
calls made within the previous six (6) months that allows County staff to search the
data and retrieve the contents immediately”


The Sheriff’s Department tells the public it does not record attorney-client calls. For

instance, its “Jail Information” webpage says an inmate’s calls to his attorney “are free of charge
and are not recorded.” 1 Similarly, Securus Technologies website promises “[video] visits are
secure and completely private for legal counsel.” 2 As recently as August 8, 2013, Major Darren
Long, the Sheriff’s jail administrator, told defense attorneys: “They [calls between attorneys and
clients] are not recorded or listened to by my staff. The only way that could happen is if there
was court order for us to do so.” Defendants similarly lead detainees to believe calls with their
attorneys are confidential.

But in reality, Securus Technologies and the Sheriff’s Department do record

confidential attorney-client communications. They also disclose those recorded conversations to
prosecutors in the Travis County and District Attorneys’ Offices. There is no legitimate reason to
record calls between detainees and their attorneys – the recordings do nothing to further the
facilities’ security or public safety.


“Jail Information,” Travis County Sheriff’s Office, at

“Legal Visits,”


Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 5 of 13


Prosecutors in both the Travis County and District Attorneys’ Offices have

procured recordings of confidential attorney-client communication from the Sheriff’s
Department and/or Securus Technologies and listened to them. Some prosecutors have disclosed
copies of those records to defense attorneys among other discovery materials; some have used
that knowledge to their tactical advantage without admitting they obtained or listened to the

Securus Technologies and the Sheriff’s Department were aware early on they were

operating a system that captured and recorded privileged conversations. Securus, in particular,
has been aware of virtually identical complaints from other parts of the country where it provides

Attorneys and investigators with the County and District Attorneys’ Offices, from

top to bottom, have had direct access to the Securus Technologies’ database of recorded attorney
calls for years. Senior-level members of the prosecutors’ offices were aware that confidential
conversations were being recorded. Low-level prosecutors have given defense attorneys copies
of recorded calls as discovery materials, which they knew contained the attorneys’ privileged
discussions with their clients.

Members of the Austin criminal defense bar contacted Defendants’ policymakers in

early 2013 with evidence their privileged phone calls with detainees clients were being recorded
and passed to the hands of prosecutors. On information as belief, the Sheriff, County Attorney,3
District Attorney, and management of Securus all became aware of the issue at that point, but
they did nothing to fix it.


On information and belief, the County Commissioners’ Court delegates policymaking authority over
legal matters to the County Attorney’s Office


Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 6 of 13


They were alerted again in late 2013 when members of the criminal defense bar

conferred with Travis County and District Court judges, who in turn directly contacted the
District and County Attorneys. On information and believe, this sparked another round of
discussion among Defendants’ policymakers. But again, nothing was done.

The Travis County Commissioners Court was alerted to the matter on January 14,

2014, when they were told at an open meeting that attorneys’ privileged calls with clients in the
jail were being recorded and shared with prosecutors. The Commissioners were simultaneously
cc’d on a spoliation letter to Securus, regarding the matters at issue here.

Although defense attorneys in Austin have discerned Defendants’ practices and

confronted them, Defendants appear to have no intention of ceasing their unlawful,
unconstitutional eavesdropping and invasion of attorney-client communication. Detainees are all
in substantial risk of having their attorney calls monitored, recorded, and used against them to
prejudice their criminal cases. Similarly, both detainees and their attorneys faced substantial risk
defendants will continue to violate their rights under the Federal and Texas Wiretap Acts.

Further, even if a defense attorney suspected his calls with detainees were being

monitored, the detainee’s Sixth Amendment rights would still be in serious jeopardy, because the
attorney would be left with the Hobson’s choice of using an insecure phone line or devoting
significant time to visiting the detainee in person.

The Sheriff’s Department implemented a policy on June 1, 2013, which prevents

attorneys from sending non-attorney staff to visit inmates – as of that date, only attorneys,
private investigators, and polygraph operators are permitted to have legal visits with Travis
County detainees. There was no legitimate security concern to justify the policy change.

Exclusively visiting detainees in person requires an excessive investment of time,

which interferes with the routine consultation that is necessary for the attorneys to represent

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 7 of 13

those detainees. Criminal defense attorneys must frequently consult with their clients. As an
investigation proceeds, they must confer about various case details to inform their investigation,
motion practice, and trial strategy. Traveling to the jail, moving through security, waiting for
shift change, waiting for lockdowns, waiting for jail staff to find and bring an inmate to the
visitation area, then waiting for a client to appear in the visitation room all take time –
frequently, a significant amount of time. A call that could have been conducted in ten minutes
may require a three-hour round trip – significantly lengthening the time required to handle the
case, with the real chance of diminishing the attorney’s effectiveness by distracting from the
cases’ other needs.

Further, any delays in communication between attorney and client that result from

relying on visits instead of phone calls make it more likely detainees will be unable to protect
interests that are often compromised in the short window of time between arrest and the
opportunity to consult with an attorney.

First, a person who was recently arrested and hoping to be released on a personal

recognizance bond needs an attorney’s help, which means using the phone. He could easily share
compromising privileged information while trying to contact an attorney, without suspecting the
call is monitored. Further, any unrepresented detainee trying to hire an attorney could easily
disclose prejudicial information before suspecting the risk.

Second, detainees will also risk irreparable injury if Defendants’ practices force

them to wait longer for legal advice. For instance, initial pleas – even for low-level charges – can
have significant ramifications for an arrestee’s immigration status. Legal permanent residents
and visa-holders need immediate access to an attorney before the initial magistration following
arrest. Even an undocumented arrestee could be eligible for relief from deportation through the
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as a victim of domestic violence; for a U-Visa, as a

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 8 of 13

victim of other crimes; or for relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
program; but then become ineligible with an ill-advised opening plea, even for a very minor
charge like “possession of drug paraphernalia,” a seemingly-innocuous fine-only Class C
misdemeanor. The law does not require a magistrate provide an attorney to a defendant before
accepting a guilty plea for a Class C misdemeanor. Once the harm is done, it can be virtually
impossible to repair.

Similarly, if a person arrested on charges of “driving while intoxicated” (DWI) is

delayed from speaking with an attorney, he could miss the opportunity to exercise an important
statutory right: the Texas Transportation Code §724.109 allows a person charged with DWI to
request a separate blood sample from their own health care provider, if they make the request
within two hours of being arrested. Every minute that passes makes it less likely the detainee will
learn about that opportunity in time to exercise it.

Meanwhile, attorneys’ incomes are reduced if they are forced to rely exclusively on

visitation rather than the phone. These attorneys are either changing clients a flat fee, meaning an
increased time commitment for each case cuts into their income; or they are charging an hourly
fee, and fewer potential clients will be able to afford the cost of representation. Either way, it
reduces attorneys’ income. Appointed attorneys are especially harmed, because they do not
receive hourly compensation. They are paid a few hundred dollars for a plea or a small amount
more if the case goes to a trial. They are not compensated for time spent waiting for visits at TCJ
or TCCC.
A. Federal Wiretap Act (18 U.S.C. § 2510, et seq)

The Federal Wiretap Act broadly prohibits intercepting, disclosing, or using the

contents of any wire, oral, or electronic communication.

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 9 of 13


Defendants have violated (and continue to violate) both attorneys’ and detainees’

rights under the Federal Wiretap Act. The individual Plaintiffs, the members of the Austin
Lawyers Guild and members of the Prison Justice League are directly affected.

Securus Technologies and the Sheriff’s Department have acted (and continue to act)

in concert to intercept confidential communications between plaintiff attorneys and detainees,
and to disclose those confidential communications to local prosecutors, in violation of the Act.

The Travis County and District Attorneys have used (and are using) those

intercepted communications in violation of the Act.
B. Texas Wiretap Act (Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 123.001, et seq)

Each Defendant is violating the Texas Wiretap Act when it:


“intercepts, attempts to intercept, or employs or obtains another to intercept
or attempt to intercept the communication;”


“uses or divulges information that he knows or reasonably should know
was obtained by interception of the communication;” or


“as… a common communication common carrier, either personally or
through an agent or employee, aids or knowingly permits interception or
attempted interception of the communication.”

Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 123.002 (a).

Defendants have violated (and continue to violate) Plaintiff attorneys and detainees’

rights under the Texas Wiretap Act. The individual Plaintiffs and the members of the Austin
Lawyers Guild and the Prison Justice League are directly affected.
C. First, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches.

Defendants seriously threaten the Fourth Amendment rights of Plaintiff attorneys and the
members of the Austin Lawyers Guild, who have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they
make calls, and members of the Prison Justice League, who have a reasonable expectation of

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 10 of 13

privacy when making attorney calls.

The Sixth Amendment entitles criminal defendants to effective assistance of

counsel, which includes confidential and timely attorney-client communication. Similarly, the
First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments protect a detainee’s right to access the courts, which is
violated when government officials infringe on confidential and timely attorney-client
communication. The Prison Justice League’s members include detainees whose face substantial
risk their rights will be violated.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(a) and 23(b), Plaintiffs bring this

action on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated persons, defined as attorneys
practicing criminal defense in Austin or Travis County. The Class seeks certification of claims
for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Numerosity: The Class is so numerous it would impractical to join every member.

Austin has roughly 966 attorneys who routinely practice criminal defense, and 10,896 attorneys
overall. The identity of Class members can be identified through public records and public
notice. Class members may be informed of the pendency of this action by public notice, with
postings in courtrooms, with the assistance of the local bar association, and by creating an
automated message for attorneys calling clients in TCJ and TCCC.

Commonality: The Class has a well-defined community of interest in the questions

of law and fact in this matter – including the recording/use of their confidential communications,
the practice’s unlawfulness, and the necessity for declaratory and injunctive relief.

Typicality: The individual Plaintiffs’ claims are typical of Class members’ claims,

because Plaintiffs are individual members of the larger community of local criminal defense
attorneys with clients in the TCJ and TCCC, who have similar practices and operate under

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 11 of 13

similar constraints. Defendants’ posture is the same toward every Austin attorney who represents
detainees. Together, the class members all suffer unreasonable risk of harm warranting injunctive
and declaratory relief

Adequacy: Plaintiffs are adequate representatives of the Class because their

interests do not conflict with the interests of the Class members they seek to represent. Plaintiffs
will fairly and adequately protect the interest of the members of the Class; they intend to
prosecute this action vigorously.

This suit may also be maintained as a class action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil

Procedure 23(b)(2) because Plaintiffs and the Class seek declaratory and injunctive relief.
Defendants have acted on grounds generally applicable to Plaintiffs and the Class as a whole,
thereby making declaratory and/or injunctive relief proper.

Defendants’ unlawful actions are an ongoing threat to Plaintiffs’ rights under state

and federal law, and the U.S. Constitution.

“[A]ny person whose wire, oral, or electronic communication is intercepted,

disclosed, or intentionally used in violation of” the Federal Wiretap Act is entitled to seek
declaratory and/or injunctive relief. 18 U.S.C. § 2520 (b)(1).

A person whose constitutional rights are violated has standing to seek declaratory

relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2201.

Defendants’ unlawful actions are an ongoing threat to Plaintiffs’ rights under state

and federal law, and the U.S. Constitution.

“[A]ny person whose wire, oral, or electronic communication is intercepted,

disclosed, or intentionally used in violation of” the Federal Wiretap Act is entitled to seek

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 12 of 13

declaratory and/or injunctive relief. 18 U.S.C. § 2520 (b)(1).

“A person who establishes a cause of action under [the Texas Wiretap Act] is

entitled to… an injunction prohibiting a further interception, attempted interception, or
divulgence or use of information obtained by an interception.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code
§123.004 (1).

Plaintiffs respectfully request they be awarded their attorney’s fees and litigation


“[A]ny person whose wire, oral, or electronic communication is intercepted,


disclosed, or intentionally used in violation of” the Federal Wiretap Act is entitled to seek
“reasonable attorney's fee and other litigation costs reasonably incurred.” 18 U.S.C. §2520(b)(3).

A person who “establishes a cause of action under the [Texas Wiretap Act] is

entitled to… reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 123.004 (5).

Further, under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, a party who prevails in suit filed under 42 U.S.C.

1983 may be awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees.
THEREFORE, Plaintiffs respectfully request this Court grant the following relief:

Issue declaratory relief stating Defendants’ practice of recording, disclosing, and
using confidential attorney-client communications is unlawful;


Enjoin Defendants from recording, disclosing, and using confidential attorneyclient communications;


Order Defendants to destroy all existing recordings of unlawfully-recorded
attorney-client communications;


Award reasonable attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and court costs; and


Grant all other and additional relief to which Plaintiffs may be entitled, at law or
in equity.

Case 1:14-cv-00366-LY Document 25 Filed 07/23/14 Page 13 of 13

DATED: July 21, 2014
Respectfully submitted,
/s/ Brian McGiverin
Brian McGiverin
Texas Bar No. 24067760
Wayne Krause Yang
State Bar No. 24032644
James C. Harrington
Texas Bar No. 09048500
1405 Montopolis Dr
Austin, Texas 78741
Tel. (512) 474-5073
Fax (512) 474-0726
Attorneys for the Individuals, the
Austin Lawyers Guild, and the
Prison Justice League
/s/ George C. Lobb
George C. Lobb
Texas Bar No. 24042928
Law Office of George C. Lobb
1108 Lavaca Street, #110-242
Austin, TX 78701
Tel. (512) 215-6011
Fax. (512) 425-0877
Attorney for the Individuals and the
I certify that a true and correct copy of the foregoing has been served on all counsel of
record who have appeared in this matter through the Electronic Case Files System of the Western
District of Texas.
/s/ Brian McGiverin
Brian McGiverin