Lawsuit alleges San Mateo County jail is snooping on attorney-client communications

A group of Peninsula defense lawyers has sued San Mateo County in federal court on allegations that a recently installed jail email system is exposing privileged attorney-client communications of inmates to correctional staff.

The complaint — filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California on behalf of attorneys Curtis Briggs, Robert Canny and Matthew Murrillo — alleges that the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office has instituted the system in a way that allows authorities to comb through protected messages between attorneys and in-custody defendants at the county’s two jails.

The complaint says the sheriff’s office gave no notice or warning that it had the ability to look through private communications between attorneys and inmates.

Ara Jabagchourian, who is one of three law firms representing the plaintiffs, said the sheriff’s office has failed to implement an available feature to screen out the private communications.

“This new system effectively scans everything that comes in and out electronically, including email and even hard mail,” Jabagchourian said. “Especially during COVID, attorneys wouldn’t be able to come in as much and relied on email as communication. What’s happening is the deputies have been reviewing emails and they failed to screen out what’s attorney-client privilege.”