Attorneys protest prosecutor's surveillance

 LEBANON, Ohio (AP) — Defense attorneys in a southwest Ohio county are upset after learning that the prosecutor can keep an eye and ear on them from his office during their courtroom trials.

The controversy erupted after a defense attorney heard from a Warren County judge during a recent trial about the live feed to Prosecutor David Fornshell’s office, The Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Attorney John Kaspar said he was concerned confidential conversations with clients could be picked up by a microphone in the courtroom.

“In any case that I have, it could compromise the effectiveness of my defense because I don’t know what (Fornshell) has heard or not heard,” Kaspar said.

A veteran defense attorney in Lebanon, Charlie Rittgers, wrote to the county’s judges urging them to cut off the audio-visual feed to the prosecutor’s office. He called it an invasion of privacy and of attorney-client privilege, and a threat to defendants’ constitutional right to effective counsel.

Fornshell said he first asked for the camera feed to his office during a 2011 trial in which a man was convicted of fatally running over a sheriff’s deputy. He said the same audio feed has long been available in courthouse media rooms.
“They are acting like this is some secret surveillance,” Fornshell said, adding that he can’t hear anything that’s not available to others.

The county’s judges say they don’t see a problem.

“I think this is much ado about nothing,” said presiding Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler. “I approach everything with the concept that we have an open court. We have to be very careful that there is no infringement on the attorney-client privilege or privileged conversations. I have no reason to suspect that anyone is violating that.”

An Ohio spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said that while it favors shining light on the judicial process, the Warren County situation raises concerns because of lack of oversight and that the prosecutor has something extra during trials.

“When you allow one party to the proceedings to have a direct feed ... it provides a tremendous advantage,” said the ACLU’s Gary Daniels.


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