A special prosecutor has been appointed to investigate whether a suspect’s rights were violated when officials listened to Yakima County jail phone calls between the suspect and his attorney.
A Superior Court judge on Friday tapped Jeff Sullivan, a former Yakima County prosecuting attorney and retired U.S. Attorney, to conduct the investigation, which is expected to take three to five weeks to complete.
Sullivan was previously appointed to investigate a similar jailhouse phone eavesdropping incident by sheriff’s investigators in the case Kevin Harper, the prime suspect in the 2011 triple homicide of the Goggin family. However, that investigation became moot and was never completed after murder charges were dropped against Harper in October 2012.
Now, Sullivan will look into the case of Daniel Woolem, an accused drug dealer whose calls to his then-attorney in 2011 were accessed as many as six times, according to court records.
Calls from the county jail are recorded — in fact, inmates are given a warning before a call is connected. Law enforcement sometimes listens to the recordings, which can be a valuable aid in investigations. But calls between inmates and their attorneys are protected by attorney-client privilege and are supposed to be blocked from being recorded. That did not happen in the Harper or Woolem cases, jail records indicate.
In both cases, a deputy prosecutor discovered eavesdropping had occurred and it was reported to defense attorneys and the court.
The prosecutor’s office asked Judge Douglas Federspiel to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether the eavesdropping warranted dropping the charges.
Sullivan is expected to investigate who accessed Woolem’s phone records and what was learned.
Woolem’s current defense attorney, Ricardo Hernandez, argued against appointing a special prosecutor, saying it doesn’t matter what was learned by listening to the calls, that mere access to the conversations warrants dismissal of the case against his client.
“Whoever listened to that call didn’t bother to report it to anybody at any level,” Hernandez said. “We believe that shows bad faith.”
Court records say the jail’s computerized phone recording system containing Woolem’s calls were accessed with user names belonging to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty and sheriff’s detective Robert Tucker.
In court records, Hagarty said his user name is used by several members of his office and that he didn’t listen to any of the calls.
The defense has requested a list of people who would have had access to Hagarty’s user name and password at the time in 2011.
Court records also state that Tucker’s eavesdropping was accidental and that he stopped listening as soon as he realized it was an attorney-client call.
Prosecutors argue there is legal precedent for an incidental waiver of attorney-client privilege. They say that when inmates are warned their calls are being recorded, it’s their responsibility to take steps to block the recording.
Former and current members of the prosecutor’s office, including Hagarty, and corrections department staff have been summoned to testify at the Monday hearing.