Criminal watchdog group wants more privacy between attorneys and clients

Criminal justice watchdog group releases findings

Should Orleans Parish law enforcement have access to jailhouse phone calls between inmates and their lawyers?

The debate over that question will continue Wednesday morning as a criminal justice watchdog group presents its findings to a New Orleans City Council committee.

Court Watch NOLA released its 50-page annual report in May. Inside were nine different recommendations for Orleans Parish courts.

One of those recommendations asked the District Attorney's Office to create a policy preventing the arrest of domestic abuse victims when they refuse to testify.

Court Watch NOLA said some improvement was seen with only one victim was arrested last year, down from four victims the previous year.

But it was the first recommendation from the watchdog group that created the most debate.

The group is asking that phone calls between inmates and their lawyers become off-limits to officials.

Both the D.A. and sheriff's offices said attorneys and clients are fully aware prosecutors could get their hands on phone calls.

Attorneys also have around-the-clock access to incarcerated clients for face-to-face interviews that are never recorded, on top of the ability to use a registered landline for non-recorded telephone calls with clients.?

But Court Watch NOLA said lawyers often use cell phones and that the recordings of those phone calls could be a violation of the sixth amendment.

"It's constitutional, you're not allowed to record those, you're not allowed if you're a member of the government to record them, to surveil them, to listen to them, it's over 325 years old this privilege, we don't know why here in Orleans Parish that we are disregarding it," Simone Levine of Court Watch NOLA said.

Court Watch NOLA will be presenting all nine of its recommendations to the City Council Criminal Justice Committee Wednesday morning.