A federal judge has directed Erie County officials to turn over some internal e-mails to an attorney who is suing the county over strip-search procedures in the county jail.
The victorious attorney, Bob Keach of Amsterdam, claims the e-mails will provide "smoking gun evidence" in the class-action lawsuit he filed last year in behalf of more than 30,000 former holding center inmates.
Attorneys for the county claimed that the e-mails should be secret because of attorney-client privilege, but U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin disagreed.
"[The] court finds that the defendants have waived the attorney-client privilege with respect to the disputed e-mails by placing the information in those communications at issue in the litigation," Curtin ruled Wednesday.
Keach is seeking millions of dollars in damages. He claims more than 30,000 prisoners were illegally strip-searched in the years 2001-2004. He said he believes there are still problems with the county's procedures, "but they are no longer as systemic as they were then."
The county has denied there were any wrongful strip searches, but Keach said the e-mails will prove that an assistant county attorney had warned sheriff's officials that their procedures violated the constitutional rights of prisoners.
"Calling this ruling a major victory is not strong enough," Keach said Thursday.
County Attorney Laurence K. Rubin said he had just received Curtin's ruling Thursday afternoon and was not ready to comment on it.