KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A federal judge in Kansas has appointed an Ohio attorney to investigate whether recordings of attorney-client meetings and phone calls at a privately run federal prison violated the inmates’ constitutional right to a fair trial.
U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson on Tuesday named David R. Cohen as special master, or expert, to examine audio and video recordings from the Corrections Corp. of America prison in Leavenworth and identify any confidential information contained in them.
The recordings came to light in August after federal prosecutors tried to force a defense attorney off two cases using footage subpoenaed by a grand jury in a broad contraband probe at the prison, according to court documents.
The subpoena sought all surveillance footage at the prison as part of an investigation into a conspiracy involving as many as 95 inmates and 60 people outside the facility. The thousands of hours of video turned over to investigators included footage of attorneys meeting with clients.
Cohen’s initial duty will be to evaluate whether it’s economically feasible to dig through the massive amount of recordings and identify and retain privileged information.
The Cleveland lawyer will be compensated at a rate of $500 an hour, which the judge ordered the federal government to pay.
Last month, Robinson accused an assistant prosecutor of improperly trying to access her chambers — where video evidence from CCA has been impounded — after hours while the judge was on vacation.
Robinson initially said she was considering whether the special master should also investigate the actions of the prosecutor’s office, but in her Tuesday order said that won’t be part of Cohen’s efforts “at this time.”
Cohen recently served as a special master in a federal class-action lawsuit against Sprint Nextel Corp.