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Judge to prosecutors in SK Foods case: Scott Salyer's jailhouse calls to attorney are privileged

February 18, 2011 |  3:05 pm

ScottSalyer A federal judge in Sacramento has ruled that the jailhouse telephone calls from Frederick Scott Salyer, former head of SK Foods, to his defense attorney are privileged communications and shall not be available to the prosecutors.

The issue came up before U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton when prosecutors asked that they be allowed to listen and use “as they believe appropriate, phone calls made by [Salyer] to his various attorneys while he was in pretrial detention.”

Salyer is being blamed for running SK Foods –- the tomato processing outfit he started with his father, Fred -– into bankruptcy, and allegedly committing crimes far worse. Salyer and SK Foods, the government alleges, tricked supermarkets and big food companies into buying substandard tomato products to put into brands found in almost every U.S. cupboard.

The reasoning why Salyer's calls should be fair game for the government as potential evidence? Prosecutors argued that Salyer and his lawyer, Malcolm Segal, didn’t follow the jail’s normal procedures for such calls, and ignored the written and recorded rules saying such calls may be monitored.

Therefore, claimed the prosecutors, attorney and client had waived their normal privilege of protected communication.

Karlton’s take: No dice, guys.

In an order filed Thursday, Karlton found that the process of making sure these procedures are followed were “at best, haphazard.”

But the most amusing part was what seemed to be a bit of exasperation on the judge’s part. In his order, Karlton said it appeared to him that federal prosecutors had spent years preparing for this case.

“It has seized thousands of documents, and has at least three cooperating witnesses,” Karlton wrote. “It thus appears that this issue is something of a tempest in a teapot. If the government cannot succeed without invading the attorney client privilege, it should not proceed.”

-- P.J. Huffstutter

Photo: Scott Salyer, center, talks with politician Abel Maldonado, left, and Peter Blackstock at a political event in 2004. Credit: David Royal / Monterey County Herald