AG’s office: County email review limited
Agents will only view messages related to prison probe
The state attorney general’s office only will review information on seized electronic devices that is related to its ongoing investigation in Lackawanna County, an attorney for the office said in court papers.
Deputy Attorney General Rebecca A. Elo said that because of the nature of the electronic devices, the office had to confiscate them in their entirety, including the county’s email server, during its Sept. 21 raids at Lackawanna County Prison and several other county offices.
However, it has procedures in place to ensure emails of anyone not connected to its investigation are not viewed, Elo said.
The assurances are contained in a reply Elo filed late Monday to the county’s motion that seeks the return of all items the attorney general’s office and state police seized during their searches at the county prison, its work release center, the county’s administrative offices and the 911 center.
County officials acknowledged the searches are related to a criminal investigation into alleged sexual abuse of inmates
at the county prison. In addition to seizing documents, the attorney general’s office subpoenaed several county employees to testify before a grand jury in Norristown.
In a motion filed in Lackawanna County Court last week, Dan Brier, an attorney specially appointed to represent the county in the grand jury probe, alleges the searches were illegal because the warrants were overly broad. That allowed authorities to confiscate items that go beyond the scope of the prison investigation, he said.
Brier noted authorities seized the county’s entire email server, which contains communications of county judges and every county employee dating back to 2002, as well as hundreds of other items, including entire computers and more than 240 hard drives.
A hearing on the matter is scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Lackawanna County Court.
The reply challenges the motion on several procedural and legal grounds. It also argues the entire Lackawanna County bench must be recused from hearing the matter since issues at stake involve the judges, creating a conflict of interest.
Regarding claims that the warrants were overly broad, Elo acknowledged that electronic devices may contain data that is not within the parameters of the search warrants. Recognizing electronic devices present unique issues, prior appellate courts said that does not mean the devices cannot be seized, she said. Authorities may need to seek an additional search warrant to review content specific to an investigation, however.
Elo likened the situation to police searching a vehicle and finding locked luggage. Police cannot search the luggage unless they get an additional warrant. The seizure of the vehicle would still be legal, however.
In this case, Elo said she advised the county that its entire email server was seized because emails were not separated by department. She said the attorney general’s forensic unit isolated the emails the office wishes to view from certain people. Those people are not identified in the court documents. No other emails will be searched, she said. Contact the writer: email@example.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter