After accepting the endorsement of Maine’s largest police union, Republican candidate for governor Paul LePage on Monday said Maine criminal defense lawyers were “reckless” for allowing their phone calls with jailed clients to be recorded.
Four county jails recorded nearly 1,000 phone calls people in jail made to lawyers in a year and some recordings were shared with police or prosecutors who listened to those calls, an ongoing investigation by The Maine Monitor has found. LePage said lawyers should have the ability and knowledge to not put their clients at risk by allowing the jails to record their calls.
“The lawyers should make sure they’re not being recorded,” LePage said.
“If the attorney represents this individual, the attorney then can’t be so reckless,” he added after a press conference to accept the endorsement of the Maine Fraternal Order of Police.
READ MORE COVERAGE
LePage’s remarks attempt to place the responsibility for the recorded phone calls on the lawyers, rather than jail administrators or the telecom company that installed the phone systems in most Maine county jails.
But there hasn’t been an easy or consistent process for lawyers to block their calls from being recorded at the state’s jails, said Jeremy Pratt, president-elect of the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Even when attorneys do notify the jails of their phone numbers, some are still recorded, he said.
“In many of these instances of the recordings, the facilities have been put on notice that the number that is being called is an attorney’s phone number,” Pratt said in an interview. “It is essential for attorneys to be able to confidentially speak to their clients — both on the telephone and in-person — in order to represent them.”
Pratt said he hopes that LePage will work with defense lawyers on a solution if he is elected again as governor.
The Somerset County Jail recorded Pratt and a client’s phone call and released the recording to the attorney general’s office in 2020. A prosecutor heard a portion of the call and recognized Pratt’s voice before notifying his supervisors and Pratt.
Pratt’s experience is not an isolated incident. Dozens of lawyers representing nearly 200 defendants were recorded by Aroostook, Androscoggin, Franklin and Kennebec county jails between June 2019 and May 2020, data obtained by The Maine Monitor later showed.
Multiple law enforcement agencies in Maine have since acknowledged accessing some of those calls. Maine State Police detectives reported listening to parts of murder suspects phone calls with their lawyers in 2020 and 2021, after being given recordings by jails. Drug enforcement agents said they also were aware of recordings of “privileged jail calls” in their investigations or related criminal prosecutions. Jail administrators, county employees and outside law enforcement officers in Aroostook County listened to 58 recordings and downloaded 17 more recordings of a lawyer’s phone calls with his clients at the Aroostook County Jail, The Maine Monitor reported.
LePage said he was not familiar with The Maine Monitor’s reporting.
“If it’s being done, the attorneys should be made aware of it and, frankly, the police ought to make people aware that if you’re coming into our facility, you’re likely to be recorded,” LePage said.
In some jails, inmates are told their phone calls will be monitored and recorded, with one exception: calls with their lawyer. Instructions to inmates at the Aroostook County Jail said, “All calls except to attorneys will be monitored and recorded.”
Securus Technologies, the company that installed the jails’ phone systems, added hundreds of defense attorneys’ phone numbers in May 2020 and again in May 2022 to its system to block new recordings in response to concerns from state officials.
LePage served as Maine’s governor from 2011 to 2019 and left office after reaching the state’s term limit. He is challenging his successor Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, as the Republican gubernatorial nominee in the November election.
During a joint press conference with the police union on Monday, LePage outlined a tough-on-drugs agenda, that would use jail as a pathway to getting people into detox with the possibility of expunging their criminal records if they could stay sober for a year. He also proposed to send people who overdose a bill for being administered a second dose of Narcan — a life-saving nasal spray that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Defense lawyers largely supported a bill introduced in the state Legislature earlier this year that would have levied financial penalties against police or prosecutors who listened to conversations between attorneys and people in law enforcement custody. The bill was replaced with a study committee and a report is due in November.
“If all the sides would just stop pointing fingers at each other and come up with a solution, it feels like it could be done fairly quickly and fairly easily,” Pratt said.
This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor. The Maine Monitor is a local journalism product published by The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a nonpartisan and nonprofit civic news organization.