ATHENS (AP) -- The Clarke County Jail has fully complied with a court order to change a phone system that had allowed authorities to illegally eavesdrop on calls between inmates and their attorneys.

But a local attorney will continue with plans to file a lawsuit, which he said will include both inmates and attorneys as plaintiffs.

"I anticipate the lawsuit will be filed no later than the third week of September," said Athens attorney Jeffrey A. Rothman, who notified the county that he intended to sue for $3 million on behalf of another local attorney and his former client. Rothman claims his client's constitutional rights to communicate privately with his attorney were violated by a local prosecutor.

Other local attorneys said they have made Georgia Open Records Act requests for records to determine whether any of their clients' rights had been violated while at the jail.

"This is a wake-up call for people to act smarter when it comes to the privacy rights of citizens, and for the government not to act so cavalier when it comes to trampling citizens' rights," Rothman said.

Christopher Wade was an inmate awaiting trial on armed robbery charges and was being represented by attorney Adrian Patrick when the eavesdropping occurred.

The issue came to light after Rothman replaced Patrick as Wade's attorney. In a pretrial hearing in Clarke County Superior Court, Rothman asked to have Wade's case dismissed because a prosecutor and police detective had used the phone system to listen in on Wade and Patrick as they discussed the trial.

Since February, the jail had been recording all outgoing phone calls, except for those placed by indigent inmates to the University of Georgia's Legal Aid and Defender Clinic, which had its own secure phone line to the jail.

The motion for a mistrial in Wade's case was denied, but Judge David Sweat expressed concern about the potential for abuse of the phone system. Later, he and two other judges signed an order demanding that the sheriff's office fix the problem.

Wade was later acquitted in the case.

Capt. Jack Mitchell of the Clarke County Sheriff's Office said last week that the policy on use of the jail's phone system "is still being developed." But the phone numbers for the offices of each defense attorney registered in the Western Judicial Circuit have been entered into the system with the designation of "free and blocked," meaning inmate calls to those numbers are now toll-free and unmonitored, he said.

Mitchell said that the only ones with access to the phone system are jail personnel, for use in stopping escape plots and other crimes by inmates.

But Rothman says blocking the monitoring of calls to attorneys' offices within the judicial circuit did not go far enough because some Clarke County Jail inmates are represented by attorneys from outside the district and often call their attorneys' at home or their cell phones.

Mitchell said that under the new jail policy, attorneys can request to have inmate calls placed to them on phones they use away from their offices and outside the Western Judicial District.


Information from: Athens Banner-Herald,

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