- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 18, 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Federal prosecutors in Kansas agreed in a court filing with an expert’s finding that a “climate of mistrust” exists between themselves and defense attorneys, and it’s harming the interests of justice.

Monday’s acknowledgement comes in the wake of a special master’s report issued last month saying most defense suspicions that the government was monitoring attorney-client communications are groundless. The report said “the underlying mistrust is corrosive and must be fixed.”

“Mutual suspicion not only makes it harder for counsel to work together; it manifests itself in the squandering of scarce judicial resources, increased expense and frustration of all parties, and ultimately a diminished quality of justice for the entire community,” special master David Cohen wrote.

The court appointed Cohen, an Ohio attorney, to serve as a special master to investigate recordings at the Correction Corp. of America prison in Leavenworth. The move came after the revelation in August that the U.S. attorney’s office in Kansas had obtained video recordings of defense attorneys meeting with clients at the prison. The defense bar subsequently demanded an investigation.

Cohen’s report tentatively concluded neither the U.S. attorney’s office nor any law enforcement officer had actually viewed those seized, video-only recordings of attorney-client meetings at the prison, nor had they previously obtained any such recordings.

The special master’s report prompted objections from Federal Public Defender Melody Brannon - who insisted the government’s misconduct should fuel mistrust, rather than be dismissed as a mere misunderstanding.

“To quietly walk away without doggedly seeking answers and relief would have been a diminution of justice for the clients we represent,” Brannon wrote. “It might have been easier, but it would have been wrong. Rather, protecting the sanctity of confidential attorney-client communication enhances the quality of justice as promised by the Sixth Amendment.”

Prosecutors countered the tenor of Brannon’s response suggests that “any relief at having the defense bar’s worst fears dispelled is, for now, overshadowed by disappointment that some of those fears were not validated to the government’s detriment.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Barnett wrote that “there can be no credible denial that the mistrust does in fact exist to the detriment of professional relations and, ultimately, the best interests of justice, and that it is in all parties’ interests to work diligently to overcome it.”

The United States has been ordered to pay Cohen more than $283,000 so far since his appointment in October.

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