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O.C. supervisors extend contract with vendor at center of scandal over jailhouse recordings

O.C. supervisors extend contract with vendor at center of scandal over jailhouse recordings
Orange County sheriff's deputies walk past the county jail in Santa Ana. The county's Board of Supervisors has voted to extend a contract with a vendor responsible for improperly recording attorney-inmate phone calls in the facility. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

The Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to extend its contract with a company embroiled in controversy in recent months over the improper recording of more than 1,000 privileged phone calls between county jail inmates and their attorneys over a three-year period.

Orange County officials had proposed a six-month contract extension for Global Tel Link Corp.’s contract, which was set to expire Nov. 24, to make way for Texas-based Securus Technologies to take over jail communications with a no-bid contract. However, several supervisors bristled about rushing into a new contract with a vendor despite issues with Global Tel Link.

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Ultimately, the board voted 3 to 1 to extend Global Tel Link’s contract for a year and to delegate authority to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to extend it an additional six months, if necessary, as a transition to a new contractor is made.

Sheriff’s officials have said they plan to put together a bid for a new vendor that would include an upgrade from phones to tablets for inmates. That process could take more than a year, according to Orange County Sheriff’s Department Executive Director Brian Wayt.

Supervisor Lisa Bartlett argued for at least a yearlong contract with Global Tel Link, noting that other vendors in the industry also have faced problems, including hacking and a class-action lawsuit.

“I don’t want to go from the frying pan into the fire,” Bartlett said. “I think we need to be thoughtful and strategic in this process. I don’t want to rush to judgment and go with a sole source contract. We want to take time to do this right.”

Board Chairman Andrew Do said the Sheriff’s Department also is contracting with Praeses, an IT management company, to oversee Global Tel Link’s phone operations in the jail and help the agency request proposals for a new vendor.

Vice Chairman Shawn Nelson, who voted against the extension, said he wouldn’t support continuing to work with a company that he said has proved to be “completely incompetent” and not forthcoming with information. Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who has publicly opposed the county’s continuation of its contract with the company in light of the scandal, was absent.

“I’m not sure even today we know how many calls they did or didn’t record. They failed us horribly,” Nelson said. “They put us in incredible jeopardy.”

The attorney-client recordings came to light in August when a county employee testified about it during a hearing in Joshua Waring’s attempted murder case. Waring is the son of former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member Lauri Peterson.

Waring’s defense attorney, Joel Garson, made the discovery after digging into allegations that law enforcement monitored and shared Waring’s phone calls in Orange County Jail with law enforcement while he was representing himself in his criminal case.

A document provided by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department lists 1,079 attorney-client phone calls that were recorded from 2015 through early this year in violation of state law.

Orange County sheriff’s officials knew about the issue as early as July 27, when an employee with Global Tel Link wrote in a letter to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens that an update in the company’s system in January 2015 caused “a technical error” that led to the phone calls being recorded.

“After conducting research, we have determined that the Sheriff’s Department staff, and in certain circumstances [Global Tel Link] for investigative or technical purposes, accessed 58 of those 1,079 recorded calls a total of 87 times,” Darren Wallace, executive vice president of operations for Global Tel Link, wrote in the letter.

The company and sheriff’s officials have said the error was corrected in July and attorney-client phone calls are no longer being recorded.

Scott Sanders, an assistant public defender in Orange County, alleged in court documents last month that the Sheriff’s Department and Global Tel Link conspired to record and listen in on the phone calls.

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The Sheriff’s Department has denied any wrongdoing.

“The original recording error was a human error on the part of a third-party contractor [Global Tel Link] who has taken responsibility for the error,” Orange County sheriff’s spokeswoman Carrie Braun said last month. “Any number that was not included on the list would have been subject to the same recording policy as the general public. Both callers, the inmate and the attorney, would have heard a prompt on every call as follows: ‘This call is from a correctional facility and is subject to monitoring or recording.’ ”

However, the Orange County Board of Supervisors in late August ordered an investigation into the problem. The supervisors directed the county’s Office of Independent Review to delve into the issue.

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