Marines Say Law Office Raid Did Not Taint Cases

A Marine Corps review into a raid by military investigators on defense lawyers' offices at Camp Pendleton found the unusual search did not compromise cases, though at least one defendant is asking a judge to weigh in, saying he feels he can't get a fair trial now.

The findings of the May 2 search were revealed Thursday during a motions hearing for Lance Cpl. Eric Salinas, a defendant in a hazing case who wants to sever his relationship with his Camp Pendleton lawyers because of the search. He told the judge he wants to be represented by attorneys outside the base.

His defense lawyers went one step further and asked the judge to throw out the charges against him if he cannot get a fair trial because of the raid.

Military investigators said they were looking for a cellphone in a separate case involving drug use and gang activity. Investigators testified Thursday that they continued to search all of the defense attorneys' offices even after locating the cellphone in a desk drawer because the lawyers would not verify that it was in fact the correct phone.

Defense lawyers say the 2 1/2 hour search overstepped bounds, may have tainted scores of cases and compromised their client-attorney relationships. They compared it to a raid by the FBI on public defenders' offices.

Salinas' defense lawyers told the judge he cannot get a fair trial because he has no guarantee investigators did not see privileged material between him and his attorneys. They said the raid's impact is far reaching, and Salinas is the first of a long line of defendants they expect to step forward.

"I can't give assurances to my clients that my offices won't be searched in light of what happened here," Capt. Gregg Curley said. "I can't take my case files home to safeguard them because I live on base."

And he added, "It's not just limited to my office."

If Judge Lt. Col. Elizabeth Harvey rules the search compromised Salinas' case in any way, it could set a precedent for other cases. The Camp Pendleton offices have about 70 cases, including an Iraq war crimes case.

The Marine Corps appointed what it said was a neutral, independent judge advocate to review the seized evidence to identify whether any potential privileged material was improperly disclosed. The review also looked at how the search was conducted.

Military investigator Sgt. Lisa Brandt testified Thursday that the review found no attorney-client privileged information was compromised. However, an investigation by a higher ranking officer has not concluded.

"We didn't read any text or anything," she told the judge. "When you're searching, you're not savvy enough to read something. You're shuffling papers."

She added that the aim was to find the phone and verify that it was the right cellphone before leaving.

Prosecutor, Maj. Doug Hatch, told the judge that the prosecution ordered the search as a last resort after the defense refused to hand over the phone.

"They were looking for one thing and one thing only," he said. "They were not trying to seek out any other evidence."

The judge did not indicate when she would rule on the Salinas case but said it would be soon.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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