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Prisoner’s Right to Counsel Violated by Eavesdropping on Attorney Phone Calls

Prisoner’s Right to Counsel Violated by Eavesdropping on Attorney Phone Calls

by Christopher Zoukis

Charges against a Washington man awaiting trial on felony drug and stolen property charges were dropped by a Yakima County Superior Court after an investigation found that a prosecutor and sheriff’s detective had listened to phone calls made to his lawyer.

Superior Court Judge Douglas Federspiel dismissed the charges against Daniel Woolem following a two-day hearing and a court-ordered report from former Yakima County prosecuting attorney and retired U.S. Attorney Jeff Sullivan, who had been appointed to investigate the matter.

“Under the limited, unique and specific facts of this case based upon the record, it is the court’s opinion that of the available remedies, the only meaningful and appropriate remedy that addresses the violation of the defendant’s right to counsel is the dismissal of the pending charges against Mr. Woolem,” Federspiel wrote.

According to the investigation, phone calls between Woolem and his attorney at the time, Tim Schoenrock, were recorded in May 2011 at the Yakima County jail. Sheriff’s Detective Robert Tucker listened to the first call on May 3. Tucker claimed that he stopped listening as soon as he realized a lawyer was involved, and that he reported the incident to the prosecutor’s office. “However, a transcript provided by Special Master Sullivan indicates that the access went well beyond what should have been the first indication that the conversation was an attorney-client communication,” Judge Federspiel wrote.

Two other calls in May 2011 were listened to by “someone” using prosecutor Jim Hagarty’s user name and password. Hagarty denied listening to the recordings and said he “may have” authorized someone in his office to use his log-in credentials.

Judge Federspiel noted that on the day the last two calls were accessed, Schoenrock had been arrested for driving with a suspended license and later charged with possession of stolen property. Prosecutors admitted the calls were recorded at a time when they were “concerned” that Schoenrock was “under the influence of drugs” in court.

Woolem’s case is the second in which such eavesdropping has been reported at the Yakima County jail. An earlier incident involved Kevin Harper, a suspect in a triple homicide; that investigation ended when Harper pleaded guilty to lesser charges.

Sources: Associated Press, www.bellinghamherald.com, www.kimatv.com, www.yakimaherald.com

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