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Morning Spew

It’s Wednesday and Rikers Guards Are Having a Peek at Your Privileged Attorney-Client Correspondence

The DOC appears to be opening mail between lawyers and their clients, Astoria's pizza wars are over, and more links for your morning.

9:27 AM EST on December 7, 2022

Fog obscures Manhattan and Randall's Island
Sam Mellins|

Wednesday’s fog obscures Randalls Island and Manhattan (photo courtesy Sam Mellins)

The right to communicate privately with your lawyer is a sacrosanct element of American law. The constitutional right to effective legal counsel requires that you be able to talk and correspond with your lawyer without having to worry that someone is listening in.

Evidence suggests that the New York City Department of Correction may not be overly concerned with his right. More than a dozen pieces of mail from people being held on Rikers, addressed to their lawyers and clearly marked "privileged legal mail" arrived at their lawyers' offices this week with the envelopes torn open at both ends, according to MK Kashian and David Klein, who received the mail.

A video posted on social media by Kaishian and shared with Hell Gate shows the state of some of the 14 envelopes the lawyers received already open.

Board of Correction rules governing how the DOC handles mail dictate that jail officials can only open outgoing mail if they have a warden's written order "articulating a reasonable basis to believe that the correspondence threatens the safety or security of the facility, another person, or the public." 

Privileged mail with lawyers enjoys an even higher protection under the City rules: "Outgoing privileged correspondence shall not be opened or read except pursuant to a lawful search warrant."

The Department of Correction did not acknowledge repeated requests for comment.

It's not just New York City rules that protect incarcerated people’s correspondence with their lawyers. So does a robust body of court decisions linking the right to send mail to your lawyer without fear of it being opened to basic constitutional rights.

"There's well-established case-law, and it's a violation of the First Amendment, the Sixth Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment," Kaishian said. 

Communication with clients awaiting trial on Rikers was already difficult, Kaishian said.

Last year it was revealed that Securus, the company which operates the phone system available to people held in city custody, had delivered recordings of hundreds of privileged phone calls straight to district attorney's offices.

Physically visiting clients on Rikers means the clients are subjected to strip searches both before and after any meeting, she said, and even then, "the meetings aren't really private. The guard is standing right outside the door, and they've responded to things we’ve said inside; they can clearly hear us." 

Now, with privileged mail evidently being rifled, Kaishian says, the situation is only more dire.

"There's no privileged way right now to communicate with incarcerated people. And that is by design."

Reporting by Nick Pinto.

More links, NOT already read by DOC: 

  • Organization of man who loves crimes convicted of crimes. 
  • Apparently, one perk of being mayor is that when you ignore a summons issued for a rat problem at the house that you definitely live in, you can just have a City attorney deal with it for you. Via the New York Times: "New Yorkers can contest such findings by filing an online form that OATH rules say is a motion to vacate default judgments. Instead of using a private lawyer, Mr. Adams did one better: He had Rahul Agarwal, a deputy chief counsel in the mayor’s office, handle the matter. Mr. Agarwal filed a motion to vacate on the mayor’s behalf on Sept. 8, according to an OATH official and a copy of the motion that a city official shared with The Times."
  • Nurses are critical of Mayor Adams’s plans to forcibly hospitalize homeless people with severe mental illness against their will.
  • Despite being a heavily publicly financed project, the new Buffalo Bills stadium "will not be subject to the same type of competitive bidding process that a public project would."
  • Governor Kathy Hochul seems fine with more people dying from overdoses.
  • The new SUNY chancellor will get a $700,000 salary as well as “funding for transportation to and from Maryland, where he lives, housing in  Albany, a university-owned vehicle or a $1,000-a-month vehicle allowance, and a $12,500 stipend per month as a New York City housing allowance.” Meanwhile, SUNY faculty are begging the state for more money. Sounds about right.
  • Some 1,100 members of the News Guild who work at the New York Times are ready to walk out on Thursday if their demands (actual pay increases) aren't met. Solidarity!
  • The Giants said "all rise" and the Yankees said "I'll raise you" and all is well in the Bronx.
  • I’m BEGGING you to please read this story in its entirety.
  • Also read this story in full, if you want to start off your morning crying into your coffee over our failures at building transportation infrastructure, which is how I start each morning.
  • But at least Jamestown, NY, where officials have embraced legal weed, sounds tight. 
  • Astoria’s pizza war is finally over—but has too much red sauce been spilled??
  • And finally, congratulations to this adventurous dog:

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