Buchanan Defends Handling of Taped Jail Calls
By Mary Jacoby | October 24, 2021 10:10 pm

U.S. Attorney Mary Beth Buchanan in Pittsburgh is rejecting criticism from a federal public defender that her office didn’t respond with a sense of urgency to the inadvertent taping at the Allegheny County Jail of phone conversations between prisoners and their lawyers.

“If counsel walks away dissatisfied, I can’t do anything about it if she doesn’t call,” Buchanan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for an article published Saturday. “It was incumbent upon the public defender to pick up the phone and call me. And unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Lisa Freeland, the local federal public defender, learned on Oct. 8 that the jail accidentally had passed audio recordings of the attorney-client conversations to the Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney Office, the newspaper reported.

Freeland said she contacted First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert S. Cessar and the office’s criminal chief to discuss the matter. She later sent an email to members of the local defense bar to inform them of the situation. Freeland added in the email she didn’t believe the Western District office was taking the problem seriously.

She told the  Post-Gazette she was puzzled by Buchanan’s response. “There was never a moment in my conversations with either [the first assistant U.S. attorney or chief of the criminal division] that I thought for a second that Mary Beth had not been informed of what was going on and that she would have been in on those calls herself had she been available,” Freeland said.

The Allegheny jail, using standard practice, records all prisoner phone calls except those covered by attorney-client privilege. It is also standard practice for prosecutors assembling criminal cases to request recordings of phone calls a defendant or suspect makes from jail.

But when an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Buchanan’s office later realized he was hearing calls made by prisoners to the public defender’s office, he stopped listening, informed the jail, and consulted with Cessar, Buchanan told the newspaper..

“He didn’t call the public defender’s office because the public defender was not counsel of record for this defendant,” she told the Post-Gazette.

Buchanan also told the newspaper the inadvertent recordings were rare and she didn’t believe it necessary to assemble a “taint team” to identify and destroy the recordings.


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