Several high-ranking employees of the contractor that oversees the Orange County Jail phone system appeared in court Thursday to provide additional information about what was characterized as a “human error” that resulted in 1,079 privileged calls between inmates and their attorneys being improperly recorded over a three-year period.
Much of the hearing focused on the technical details of how an update to the Global Tel Link Corp. system in January 2015 resulted in the calls being recorded in violation of state law.
But company officials also disclosed that the same issue happened twice before in Pinellas and Charlotte counties in Florida.
In Orange County’s case, the company corrected what it initially called a “technical error” in July this year and no longer is recording attorney-client phone calls, according to GTL and Sheriff’s Department officials.
George McNitt, vice president of technical services for GTL, testified that the issue in Orange County occurred because a list of some 1,300 phone numbers designated as “do not record” were not properly transferred as part of the system update.
When asked whether the company has notified its other clients that such issues have arisen, McNitt said “we had no reason to believe it was happening anywhere else.”
McNitt and other GTL employees were questioned initially by Joel Garson, defense attorney for Joshua Waring, son of former “Real Housewives of Orange County” cast member Lauri Peterson.
Waring, 29, is facing three counts of attempted murder and other felony and misdemeanor charges in connection with a shooting at a former Costa Mesa sober-living home in June 2016. If convicted, he could face multiple life sentences.
Garson has been investigating allegations that law enforcement monitored and shared Waring’s phone calls in Orange County Jail while he was representing himself in his criminal case. Garson is trying to have the case dismissed on grounds of outrageous governmental conduct.
Last week, it was revealed that at least one jailhouse phone call in 2016 between Waring and his then-defense attorney were among the communications recorded by law enforcement.
According to a list of recorded calls, a Sheriff’s Department employee downloaded a recording of the call or calls to a disk in January 2017. Garson said the disk was then provided to Costa Mesa police officials who were investigating the allegations against Waring.
In a July letter to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, Darren Wallace, executive vice president of operations for Global Tel Link, wrote that “Sheriff’s Department staff, and in certain circumstances [GTL] for investigative or technical purposes,” had accessed 58 of the 1,079 recorded calls a total of 87 times.
On Thursday, Garson expressed skepticism that the list of 1,079 calls is comprehensive. Several phone numbers — such as those for the Orange County public defender’s office — hardly show up in those records, he said, even though there likely would be hundreds if not thousands of calls to that office over several years.
“Doesn’t that tell you that there’s a problem somewhere other than human error?” Garson asked Matthew McFalls, GTL’s director of technical services.
”No, it just tells me they didn’t call that number,” McFalls responded.
Regardless of how the problem started, Garson said there’s no reason it should have lasted as long as it did.
“Even if the initial negligence was with GTL, law enforcement had the duty to bring it to the attention of somebody,” Garson said.
He said he thinks the breach could cause convictions or charges to be dismissed in many serious criminal cases.
In a statement last week, Hutchens said she is “deeply disappointed that this technical glitch by [GTL] occurred” and is “concerned about the serious consequences it may bring.”
“Although each call was prefaced with a warning that calls were ‘subject to monitoring and recording,’ we know that these calls never should have been recorded by [GTL],” she wrote.
In light of what’s happened, Peterson said she believes “there’s absolutely no way” her son can receive a fair trial in Orange County.
“What has occurred is cheating,” she told reporters Thursday. “And I hear today that they keep saying it’s human error, which is fine on the GTL side — that could be a human error — but the bottom line is the Sheriff’s Department took these recorded phone calls, listened to them and then shared them.”