A judge last Friday scolded the Alameda County Sheriff's Office for unlawfully recording conversations between suspects and their attorneys but denied Public Defender Brendon Woods' request for a standing order barring that practice.
At a hearing packed with public defenders and inmates' rights advocates, Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay said "the crime of eavesdropping is clearly illegal" and is punishable by a three-year state prison term and civil penalties.
Clay also said, "The sheriff is put on notice" that any violations will be prosecuted.
But Clay said Woods failed to prove that the practice of secretly recording conversations between defendants and attorneys, which was discovered in a recent juvenile case, is widespread.
Clay said, "The question is whether this video (of the conversation between the juvenile inmate and his lawyer) is a representation of a systematic issue or was it an isolated practice."
Clay said, "Based on the record before me, I'm not sure if it goes beyond this (the single recording) because there's no historical record."
Woods asked for a standing order against the sheriff's office after he obtained evidence that sheriff's deputies have been recording conversations between public defenders and juvenile suspects in custody, even though it is a felony in California for a third party to record privileged conversations between attorneys and clients.
A spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office has said that it is reviewing all juvenile cases filed this year to see how many violations there have been.
The judge said Friday, "I know the District Attorney is investigating this."
He said if the investigation shows that the practice of secretly recording conversations between defendants and their attorneys is widespread "every judge in this courthouse would exclude those conversations" from being introduced as evidence.
After the hearing, Woods said, "I strongly disagree" with Clay's decision to deny his motion.
But Woods said, "I respect the judge for at least putting the sheriff on notice."
Woods said he will continue to investigate possible illegal conduct by the sheriff's office, saying, "We will pursue all avenues."