Special prosecutor to look into Yakima jail eavesdropping

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) - A special prosecutor will investigate whether an accused drug dealer's rights were violated when officials listened to Yakima County jail phone calls between him and his attorney.

A Superior Court judge on Friday appointed Jeff Sullivan, a retired U.S. Attorney and a former Yakima County prosecuting attorney, to look into the case of Daniel Woolem, whose calls to his then-attorney in 2011 were accessed as many as six times, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

Calls between inmates and their attorneys are protected by attorney-client privilege and are supposed to be blocked from being recorded. That did not happen in the Woolem case.

Sullivan is expected to investigate who accessed Woolem's phone records and what was learned. The probe is expected to take three to five weeks.

Sullivan was previously appointed to investigate a similar jailhouse phone eavesdropping incident by sheriff's investigators in the case of Kevin Harper, the prime suspect in the 2011 triple homicide of the Goggin family. That investigation was never completed because murder charges were dropped against Harper in October 2012.

In both the Harper and Woolem cases, a deputy prosecutor discovered eavesdropping had occurred and it was reported.

In the Woolem case, the prosecutor's office asked Judge Douglas Federspiel to appoint a special prosecutor to determine whether the eavesdropping warranted dropping the charges.

Woolem's current defense attorney, Ricardo Hernandez, argued against appointing a special prosecutor. He said mere access to the conversations warrants dismissal of the case.

"Whoever listened to that call didn't bother to report it to anybody at any level," Hernandez told the newspaper. "We believe that shows bad faith."

The jail's computerized phone recording system containing Woolem's calls was accessed with user names belonging to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty and sheriff's detective Robert Tucker, according to court records. Hagarty said in court records that his user name is used by several members of his office and that he didn't listen to any of the calls, the newspaper reported.

The defense has requested a list of people who would have had access to Hagarty's user name and password at the time.

Court records also state that Tucker's eavesdropping was accidental and that he stopped listening as soon as he realized it was an attorney-client call.