The Deputy Who Helped Himself to the Defense Attorney’s Casefile

A lot of people have e-mailed me asking for my thoughts about a disturbing video that Radley Balko posted recently. The video shows a criminal court hearing in which a deputy assigned to court security walks over to the defense attorney’s papers on the counsel table and starts to look at the papers. Eventually he reaches down and pulls out a document from the stack of papers, passes it off to another deputy, and then the other deputy walks away with it. (The real action starts around the 1:30 mark.) As I understand things, it’s not clear from the video what the officer was looking for, what he thought he found, or why he took the paper.

My own thought is that it’s outrageous: If I were the judge, I would be steaming mad unless the deputy had a pretty damn good reason for doing what he did. The most obvious remedy is to hold a hearing on what happened in to determine if the deputy should be held in contempt of court. Indeed, the first part of a hearing was held this week, with the remainder to come next week. (H/t: Scott Greenfield)

Based on the media coverage of the first part of the hearing, it looks like the officer’s efforts to explain himself were a dud, but that the hearings are getting stuck on the question of attorney-client privilege. That is, the defendant in the case doesn’t want to waive his privilege, which means that the document’s identity and significance is a secret. And that in turn means that the deputies apparently can’t give the reason why they took the document, if they actually have any reason to give, which we don’t really know.

So my overall assessment is that this looks like a mess: It’s hard to see how the deputy could have had a valid reason for looking through the files and taking the document. On the other hand, right now the privilege issue is getting in the way of getting to the bottom of it.