Lawyers Sue Over Jail Videotaping

In 2001, MCC Brooklyn, a federal detention center for pre-trial arrestees who aren't allowed to or can't make bail pending their trials and sentencings, began videotaping lawyers meeting with their clients. And they lied about it. Yesterday, the lawyers filed a lawuit seeking thousands in damages.

When lawyers from the Legal Aid Society made their way into the federal detention center in Brooklyn in the fall of 2001 to meet with detainees, they said, they were alarmed to see video cameras on the walls. Concerned about the confidentiality of their conversations with their shackled clients - immigrant detainees who were rounded up after the Sept. 11 attacks - the lawyers asked whether they were being taped. Prison officials assured them, they say, that the cameras were turned off.

But the cameras were running. The federal prison was intentionally recording the lawyer-client conversations in violation of federal law and prison policy, according to a December report by the inspector general of the Justice Department, Glenn A. Fine. Surreptitiously taping attorney-client communications is a direct attack on the role of counsel and on these Legal Aid attorneys' well-established constitutional rights," said Nelson A. Boxer, a partner of the Dechert law firm, who is representing the lawyers without fee. The plaintiffs are seeking damages under a federal statute that prohibits electronic eavesdropping without court approval and sets $10,000 for each violation. They have agreed to donate any money award to the Legal Aid Society, they said.

We hope the Government has to fork over every red cent for this egregious intrusion.

"If the Justice Department is not going to defend the Constitution, then we will," said Bryan Lonegan, one of the plaintiffs.

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