Public defender says government owes it legal fees for misconduct in Leavenworth tapings case

by Dan Margolies, Kansas News Service

The federal public defender’s office in Kansas says it’s entitled to nearly $224,000 in legal fees because of prosecutor misconduct in an explosive case over the taping of attorney-client phone calls at the Leavenworth pretrial detention prison.

In a court filing this week, the public defender says it incurred nearly $1.7 million in fees and expenses litigating the case but is seeking only the amount “required to litigate the Government’s contemptuous conduct.”

It cites two areas of misconduct by the government, both of which had previously been identified by the court: its failure to preserve evidence in the case; and its failure to cooperate with witness and document production.

“From the outset, the Government disregarded the Court’s Orders to preserve evidence and to cooperate, and, consequently, this litigation has dragged on for more than three years,” the public defender states in its filing.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson last month held the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas in contempt for its lack of cooperation in the case.

She issued her 188-page ruling in a contentious dispute over the extent of federal prosecutors’ involvement in the recording of attorney-client phone calls at the Leavenworth facility.

The detention center is run by CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), one of the country’s largest private prison companies.

The public defender claimed CoreCivic made video and audio recordings available to federal prosecutors.

It said that violated inmates’ rights under the Sixth Amendment.

The U.S. Attorney’s office at first denied accessing the recordings, then later said it had accessed only some.

In all, more than 1,000 phone calls between attorneys in the public defender’s office and their clients were recorded.

Robinson found that the U.S. Attorney’s office had a “systematic practice of purposeful collection, retention and exploitation of calls” made between detainees and their attorneys.

Scores of defendants charged with or convicted of federal crimes could see their cases dropped or prison sentences reduced based on their claims of prosecutorial misconduct and violations of attorney-client privilege.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office did not return calls seeking comment on the public defender’s fee request.

Melody Brannon, the head of the federal public defender’s office in Kansas, declined to comment.

Not long after he was confirmed as the U.S. Attorney for Kansas in December 2017, Stephen McAllister sought to tamp down the furor over the recordings by seeking to reach an agreement with the federal public defender’s office.

The agreement called for affected defendants’ prison sentences to be reduced. But he was overruled by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said that the Justice Department could not approve blanket reductions of defendants’ sentences “absent evidence of particularized harm.”

The federal public defender estimates it spent nearly 7,000 hours on the litigation over a three-year period, but says it’s seeking only those fees it incurred in connection with government’s misconduct.

It bases its fee request on hourly rates ranging from $325 an hour for Brannon and her top deputies to $250 an hour for two assistant public defenders to $100 for the office’s investigator. The $325 figure is well below what senior attorneys at Kansas City’s top private law firms charge for their work.

Even if Robinson awards the requested fees, the money won’t be directed to the public defender’s budget.

Rather, the public defender is requesting that Robinson consult with an arm of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to determine where the funds should go.

The disclosures that attorney-client calls and meetings at Leavenworth were recorded spawned two separate class action lawsuits by inmates at the prison and their attorneys.

Last month, CoreCivic and the operator of the phone system at the prison, Securus Technologies, agreed to settle the case with the inmates for $1.45 million.

The attorney class action is pending.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to See more at

Leavenworth prisoner will get opioid addiction treatment after his lawsuit is settled quickly

by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

The federal Bureau of Prisons will provide opioid addiction treatment for a prisoner at the Leavenworth penitentiary, according to a settlement reached Wednesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union in Kansas and Missouri had sued earlier in the week on behalf of Leaman Crews. He began a three-year sentence at the prison earlier this month and had been using buprenorphine, a medication used to counter the effects of opioid withdrawal.

With the help of the medication, Crews had not used drugs for 15 months prior to entering Leavenworth.

An ACLU press release said Crews and the Bureau of Prisons reached a settlement agreement in which Crews would start getting buprenorphine on Wednesday evening.

“When he was deprived of medication for the last week, until we were able to reach this agreement with the Bureau of Prisons, he’d been suffering tremendously,” said Lauren Bonds, legal director of the ACLU of Kansas. “He’s dealt with withdrawal from the medication he was receiving, so it’s very important for our client’s health.”

The ACLU had argued that denying inmates access to buprenorphine treatment is a violation of the 8th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids cruel and unusual punishment. The group also contended a denial ran afoul of the Rehabilitation Act, which bans federal programs from discriminating against people with disabilities.

The settlement does not address treatment for other inmates in the federal system. The ACLU said in the release that it’ll pursue lawsuits in the future to get other prisoners access to opioid treatment.

Bonds said in a phone interview that ultimately, the organization will push for a change in the Bureau of Prisons’ policy.

“Then we wouldn’t have to deal with this on such an ad hoc, case-by-case basis,” she said. “It would just ensure everyone who needs this medication is just getting it.”

The suit alleged that the agency denied Crews access to buprenorphine as part of a policy to only give inmates the medication while they are detoxing and to wean them off the medication after several days.

That lawsuit said Crews is recovering from a decade-long addiction to opioids following a car accident and had been taking buprenorphine throughout his recovery.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ latest data from 2004, about half of the people incarcerated in federal prisons had symptoms of substance abuse or dependency.

In an email, the Bureau of Prisons said it does not comment on litigation. The agency said it gives methadone or buprenorphine to inmates on a case-by-case basis and gives Vivitrol, another medication used to treat opioid addiction, to inmates two months before release.

Note: This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2019, to reflect comments from the Bureau of Prisons.

Nomin Ujiyediin reports on criminal justice and social welfare for the Kansas News Service. Follow her on Twitter @NominUJ or email nomin (at) kcur (dot) org.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to
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Leavenworth inmates reach $1.45 million settlement over taped attorney-client phone calls

by Dan Margolies, Kansas News Service

Less than two weeks after a judge issued a blistering opinion on the taping of attorney-client conversations at the Leavenworth Detention Center, a settlement has been reached with inmates who alleged their calls were illegally recorded.

The settlement, which needs court approval before it becomes final, calls for the private operator of the prison and the provider of its phone system to pay $1.45 million into a settlement fund for the inmates.

The case was filed more than two years ago by two former detainees at the center, Ashley Huff and Gregory Rapp, who alleged their “confidential communications with their attorneys were intercepted, disclosed or used by Defendants.”

The suit named CoreCivic Inc., which owns and runs the facility, and Securus Technologies, which contracts with the prison to provide phone and video conferencing services. The plaintiffs sought at least $5 million in damages for alleged violations of state and federal wiretap laws.

The suit followed a similar one filed by two attorneys who alleged their phone calls and meetings with clients at the facility were recorded. In September, U.S. District Judge Stephen R. Bough certified the case as a class action. That suit is pending.

Under the terms of the inmate settlement, CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, will pay $1.1 million into the settlement fund and Securus will pay $350,000. About a third of the money will go to the plaintiffs’ attorneys. The balance will be distributed among roughly 539 current and former Leavenworth inmates. A few may be eligible for up to $10,000 in payments.

“It’s a significant settlement for the detainees,” said Kansas City attorney Bob Horn, who represented the plaintiffs.

CoreCivic and Securus officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kansas City attorney Amy Fitts, who represented CoreCivic in the case, declined to comment.

In the past, CoreCivic has claimed it did nothing wrong because it said outgoing calls subject to recording were preceded by a pre-recorded message to that effect.

The settlement comes after U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas in contempt for disobeying her orders to preserve documents and recordings as part of an investigation into the recordings at the prison.

Robinson, who launched the investigation three years ago after the Federal Public Defender in Kansas brought the recordings to light, wrote there was evidence the U.S. Attorney’s Office had a “systematic practice of purposeful collection, retention and exploitation of calls” made between detainees and their attorneys.

More than 100 people charged with or convicted of federal crimes could have their sentences reduced or their cases dropped based on their claims of prosecutorial misconduct and violations of the attorney-client privilege. Those cases will be taken up on an individual basis.

In their lawsuit, Huff and Rapp alleged that CoreCivic and Securus continued to record attorney-client phone calls even after Robinson in 2016 ordered CoreCivic to halt the practice.

The settlement covers all detainees at the Leavenworth Detention Center whose calls with their attorneys were recorded between June 1, 2014, and June 19, 2017, and who had specifically requested that those calls be private.

Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter@DanMargolies. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to
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