February 24, 2024

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. (KRON) — Attorney-client privilege and privacy is being violated by a sheriff’s office on the Peninsula, at least that’s what’s alleged in a civil claim recently filed on behalf of a group of lawyers who say they want it to stop.

Email messages between attorneys and their clients are being monitored by employees at the San Mateo County Jail in Redwood City. That’s a major problem, according to criminal defense lawyer Paul Canny.

“So if an inmate sends me an email and I reply, correctional staff can read it, and I don’t like that,” said Canny.

That’s why Canny is part of a joint civil complaint stating the smart communications system that’s used by inmates, attorneys and families on the sheriff’s website is allegedly being spyed upon by jailhouse deputies.

“They’re using an electronic messaging system that allows all of the deputies, all correctional staff, all law enforcement to surveillance all email messages, all electronic messages,” said Canny.

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Canny says the website gives no warning that the messages will be read by law enforcement.

“The system does have the capability of putting a blocking feature on, so that correctional staff, law enforcement can’t read attorney client email messages but they won’t do that,” he said.

The civil complaint seeks to remedy that. Officials at the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office say that they have not received the complaint.

A spokesperson sent KRON4 a statement that reads:

“Those sending email messages to people in custody, including attorneys, receive an admonition that messages “The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has the utmost respect for the legal system and its safeguards, including attorney/client privilege. Our Corrections Division has not changed how it processes legal mail; it is handled carefully and confidentially, opened in front of the incarcerated person to whom it was sent, searched for contraband, and not read by the Sheriff’s Office. The email system that the plaintiffs are criticizing is not for legal mail. It was intended as an optional service to provide people in custody a vehicle, in addition to visits and phone calls, to keep in touch with friends and family. That email system tells all people in custody who use it that it is not for communication with attorneys. Those sending email messages to people in custody, including attorneys, receive an admonition that messages are subject to search and that there is no expectation of privacy. The reason the entire email system is not private is for the safety and security of the jail facilities and so it cannot be used to harass crime victims or engage in criminal activity.”

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