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CAMP PENDLETON, CALIF. — An initial Marine Corps review into a raid by military investigators on defense lawyers’ offices earlier this month has found no evidence that the unusual search compromised cases.
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 is being represented by defense lawyers in the Camp Pendleton offices.
Military investigators searching for a cellphone in a separate case involving drug use and gang activity searched all of the defense attorneys’ offices.
Defense lawyers have spoken out against the search, saying it 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 wants to sever his relationship with his Camp Pendleton defense lawyers and wants to be assigned representation outside the base.
His 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 when they searched every defense counsel’s office. They said the raid’s impact is far reaching, and clients such as Salinas prove that.
“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.
The review found no evidence to support defense attorneys’ claims, but an investigation by a higher ranking officer has not concluded. In the meantime, defense lawyers asked Judge Lt. Col. Elizabeth Harvey to weigh in on the issue.
If she 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.
“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.
The judge did not indicate when she would rule on the Salinas case but said it would be soon.