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Recording of Nashville, Tennessee Jail Prisoners’ Attorney Calls Criticized

In February 2011 it was revealed that the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office in Nashville, Tennessee had recorded approximately 300 phone calls between jail prisoners and their lawyers, then gave the recordings to federal prosecutors.

The calls were recorded despite the unwritten policy of the Sheriff’s Office not to listen to attorney-client phone calls; Sheriff’s officials claimed the recordings were inadvertent.
The controversy arose when 142 CDs containing the calls, among many other phone conversations from the jail, were turned over to federal prosecutors who shared them with dozens of criminal defense lawyers.

Some of the defense attorneys whose calls were recorded objected to their release, claiming it violated attorney-client privilege, but other defense lawyers refused to return the CDs with the recorded calls, saying they might be useful in the representation of their clients.

U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin, who ultimately received the CDs with the attorney phone recordings, said “It’s our policy not to listen to those calls. The controversy arises because there’s [sic] criminal defense lawyers in town who want to listen to other defense lawyers’ calls.”

As part of an investigation into a Somali gang sex-trafficking ring, the U.S. Attorney had requested recordings of phone calls made by prisoners at Nashville Metro jails. Calls to family members and friends are not considered privileged; however, since prisoners commonly swap PIN numbers to make phone calls, numerous calls to attorneys were mixed in with the rest. The U.S. Attorney’s office agreed to return the CDs but many copies had already been distributed.

U.S. District Court Judge William Haynes, Jr. ruled on May 10, 2011 that the recording of attorney-client phone calls was “a serious threat to constitutional rights,” and ordered that the CDs be “returned by counsel for all parties and filed under seal with the Clerk’s Office.” Judge Haynes said he would review the CDs for “potential privileged information,” then return them to the U.S. Attorney’s office for redactions. See: United States v. Adan, U.S.D.C. (M.D. Tenn.), Case No. 3:10-cr-00260.

Sources:, Knoxville News-Sentinel,

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Related legal case

United States v. Adan