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Muskogee County Courthouse surveillance system is under fire

Trials have been delayed while investigators look into allegations of possible eavesdropping at the Muskogee County Courthouse.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD Published: October 26, 2012

Men accused of murder, rape and child abuse are among several whose trials have been delayed because of allegations of eavesdropping at the district attorney's office.

No evidence has surfaced that District Attorney Larry Moore or his staff listened in on conversations between defense attorneys and their clients, but the potential for such activity before and after court hearings has roused the attention of Muskogee County's district judges and bar association.

Moore asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter. He did not return telephone messages left at his office by The Oklahoman.

“I heard rumors that people are being listened to in courtrooms and in the courthouse, and there just got to be too many rumors,” District Judge Mike Norman said Thursday.

At issue is a surveillance system installed several years ago that feeds audio and video from the courtrooms to the sheriff's department. It also records and archives the data, and has been modified by the county several times since its initial installation.

Local defense attorneys learned in August the audio could be accessed by laptops on loan to the district attorney from the sheriff's office, said Martha Cherbini, president of the county bar association.

Cherbini said the investigation will clear up what so far has been “a lot of benign explanations for a lot of questions.”

“This has been going on for over a month now, so it's hard to know what's fact and what's fiction,” she said. “There's a lot of uncertainty about whether anything is illegal, unethical, or just wrong, and there's a process for figuring those things out.”

Stephen Lammers, a technician with Data Video Systems, said he installed the security system about six years ago. He said he objected to installing microphones in the courtroom, but ultimately both video and audio were installed with audio mute switches available to the judges.

Lammers said audio and video streams were sent to a digital video recorder at the sheriff's department. Sometime between installation and this month, the equipment was modified.

The software was transferred from the video digital recorder to laptops and the mute system was bypassed, he said.

“But I really don't think the sheriff would have done it because he honestly never messed with it; he's not real tech-savvy,” Lammers said. “I would suspect it was the IT guy.”

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