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Jail warden to review policies after Bulger wrote letters

With approval from Catherine Greig’s attorney, James J. Bulger’s lawyer visited her at a detention center in Rhode Island to deliver a letter the gangster had written to her on a legal pad. She then wrote her own letter to him.

With approval from Catherine Greig’s attorney, James J. Bulger’s lawyer visited her at a detention center in Rhode Island to deliver a letter the gangster had written to her on a legal pad. She then wrote her own letter to him.

The warden of the Donald Wyatt Detention Facility in Rhode Island said Friday that he will examine his jail’s policies to determine whether James “Whitey” Bulger’s attorney violated protocol by delivering so-called love letters to the gangster’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, when she was housed at the facility.

“When it comes to any issues dealing with safety and security, detainees’ rights, and the privilege of attorneys, it’s important to look and make sure policies were followed,” said Brian Murphy, the jail’s warden. “Obviously, this is going to be reviewed.”

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Attorney J.W. Carney Jr. told a gathering of Massachusetts defense lawyers Wednesday night that Bulger believed prison officials would never allow him to send a letter to Greig, so Carney allowed his client to write notes on his legal pad during visits at the Plymouth County jail where he was being held. Greig wrote notes to Bulger on the same legal pad, and Carney ferried them between the two jails.

Carney said he had the permission of Greig’s attorney to visit her and said he never read the letters, which prompted tears from both prisoners.

Greig lived with Bulger for 15 years in the Santa Monica, Calif., apartment where they were both arrested in June 2011. She was sentenced in June 2012 to eight years in prison. Bulger was sentenced in November to two life terms on charges that included racketeering and 11 murders.

Carney said Wednesday night, “To me, there is no regulation or law that should prevent people from expressing love.”

On Friday, Carney said he stood by the remarks he made Wednesday night and had no further comment.

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Carney’s disclosure of the love letters, first reported in Friday’s Boston Globe, created quite a stir within the state’s legal community, both for its insight into Carney’s relationship with the notorious gangster but also for its possible ethical breaches.

Legal observers questioned whether Carney violated attorney-client privileges by disclosing the personal information so publicly.

Murphy, whose facility detains inmates on behalf of federal agencies such as the US Marshals Service, also questioned whether the ferrying of communications violated protocol. He cited jail policy requiring that any correspondence between detainees receive prior approval from prosecutors, the US Marshals Service, and himself. The purpose, he said, is to prevent any communications that could threaten jail security and public safety.

“We have this institutional policy for safety and security, not only internally but externally, for the public,” he said, adding that communications “have got to be vetted.”

“Those matters are going to be looked into,” he said. “There’s a specific request an inmate would have to fill out, at least in my facility.”

He could not say specifically what the review could lead to, noting that Greig has been transferred to another facility, but said it could call for an update of jail policies.

A spokeswoman for the Plymouth County jail where Bulger was held before his trial would not comment.

The Marshals Service said that detainees in its custody are subject to the policies of the jails and prisons where they are being held and that “the matter is under review.”

Martin W. Healy, the Massachusetts Bar Association’s chief operating officer and chief legal counsel, said he saw no ethical issues with Carney’s disclosure, saying the attorney was simply providing insight into “how the trial was handled, and it was an effort to humanize Bulger to the general public, specifically to members of that audience.”

He said he saw no issue with ferrying the letters between jails, saying that Carney had the approval of Greig’s attorney to visit her and that there was nothing to suggest that the letters contained any security or safety threats.

“I think there’s a lot that’s disclosed between attorneys and clients that’s not known to prisons, and it goes to defendants’ privacy,” he said. “I’m sure [Carney] looked at those issues before he pursued the matter and acted accordingly.”

But Brian Kelly, the former assistant US attorney who helped prosecute Bulger before leaving for a post with Nixon Peabody, criticized the secret passing of messages between Bulger and his girlfriend, saying they appeared to violate federal court rules and jail policies. He said the policies are in place to limit communications as a security measure.

“The purpose of the regulations is to make sure prisoners don’t concoct new schemes or deliver messages that lead to more problems,” he said.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@ globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.

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