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Idaho state attorneys charged with secret interception of lawyer-client correspondence

The Associated Press


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BOISE, Idaho — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit in federal court, charging two state attorneys have engaged in professional misconduct in dealings with inmates and should be sanctioned.

The lawyers are Deputy Attorneys General Timothy McNeese and Stephanie Altig. An announcement of the Feb. 17 suit was delayed to protect the identity of some prisoners until the court ordered the papers to be sealed, ACLU officials said Wednesday.

"For a period of at least nine months in 1997, the Department of Correction lawyers encouraged prison staff to secretly deliver to them copies of the ACLU lawyers' confidential legal correspondence with their prisoner-clients," said ACLU attorney Margaret Winter.

Those actions violate Correction's own policies, as well as rules of the court and attorney conduct, and First Amendment rights of the inmates and their ACLU counsel.

The suit charges the documents the two surreptitiously intercepted included letters related to an ACLU class-action lawsuit by Boise prisoners against the Correction Department.

The suit, Gomez v. Spalding, which has been contested for seven years, charges Correction retaliates against prisoners who file complaints about the conditions of their confinement. A six-week trial took place last year before U.S. Magistrate Larry Boyle. A ruling is pending.

The alleged surveillance came to light when Correction lawyers filed a motion for contempt against ACLU attorney Steven Pevar. The department claimed Pevar's statements to the court showed he was guilty of fraud and the prisoners' lawsuit should be dismissed.

Pevar denied the claim. Boyle ordered the agency attorneys to turn over all the letters they had copied and cease their surveillance of the mail of their opposing counsel.

The Correct Department never asserted any security reason for its alleged clandestine reading of the documents, ACLU officials said.

If Boyle grants the motion for sanctions against the Correction attorneys, the two could be subject to fines, reprimands or removal from the case.

Spokesmen for the Correction Department and state attorney general's office said their agencies had no comment in the matter.