One of the nation’s largest private prison operators has some serious explaining to do.

What was it doing recording private conversation between attorneys and their incarcerated clients at the Leavenworth Detention Center? After all, attorney-client privilege is supposed to be one of the bedrock principles of America’s legal system.

Clients should be able to talk to their lawyers — confidentially — about their cases. That way, the attorney can provide the best possible legal representation.

And here’s a question for the U.S. attorney’s office of Kansas: Why did some of its attorneys listen to those supposedly private conversations? Certainly the lawyers knew that such conversations were off-limits and that they had no business eavesdropping on them. But how often did it happen?

Those questions are among many that need answering following what amounts to a shocking breach of constitutional norms. Between 2011 and 2013, the detention center’s operator, CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, recorded at least 1,338 phone calls — and possibly thousands more — that detainees placed to their public defender attorneys, according to KCUR.

And we know now that prosecutors listened to some of those recordings.

What’s at stake? A whole lot. Lawsuits have been filed. The possibility now exists that dozens of criminal cases impacted by the breach of confidentiality could be tossed out. …

Then there’s the lingering damage that this case leaves behind. How can defense attorneys gain the trust of their often-destitute clients at a facility like the one in Leavenworth when those clients suspect that their conversations are being recorded? …

This entire episode stems from a contraband investigation at the Leavenworth facility. What’s especially disconcerting is that even after numerous news stories about this issue and the appointment of a special master in October 2016 to look into this matter, a resolution has proven elusive. …

CoreCivic declined comment. So did McAllister’s office. But this situation desperately needs resolution, and tensions between the federal public defender’s office and the U.S. attorney must be tempered. CoreCivic, which court records show has cooperated with this investigation, needs to ensure everyone that its operations safeguard those critical conversations between attorneys and their clients.

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution demands no less.

 

— The Kansas City Star