AUGUSTA — Attorneys and other professionals who regularly visit the Kennebec County jail might not be able to get access to inmates if they haven’t gone through a new screening process instituted by Sheriff Ryan Reardon.

The change stopped at least one attorney this week from completing her duty as lawyer of the day, a designation in which she represents defendants at the jail who have not hired their own attorney or had one appointed.

Augusta attorney Elizabeth Gray was refused entry to the jail on Monday when she was scheduled to represent defendants in initial appearances before a judge via video from the jail.

Instead of being at the jail in a room with the inmates, Gray came into the courtroom at the Capital Judicial Center to explain to Judge Eric Walker “why the jail won’t let me in” and why attorney Stephen Bourget had to represent all 17 defendants, rather than just half of them.

She said the jail personnel wanted to gather information and screen her before letting her in.

“I do lawyer of day a number of times,” she said, adding that most recently it was the previous week. She said she was told Monday that “my picture and my information needs to be posted in their internal system.”

She pulled out an attorney’s badge issued to her by the Maine Judicial Branch.

“That was not good enough,” she said, adding that an officer was unavailable to do the screening immediately.

Reardon, who whose office runs the jail, said a notice about the change in the jail’s access policy — effective July 15 — had been posted for some time. One notice is dated June 7, 2016.

It affects those entering the jail for professional visits, including “lawyers or their authorized representatives, clergy, government representatives, mental health workers, licensed counselors or medical personnel with the intent of providing a service to an inmate,” according to the policy last revised on June 4, 2015.

“There’s been a warning up for two months prior that they need to get their picture and credentials in to be added to the new list,” Reardon said.

But a handful of local attorneys did not previously know about the new policy until this week and it’s not clear whether any notice went out beyond the paper posted at the jail.

As for Gray, she is troubled by the new policy and does not plan to go through the screening process, and it’s not clear if that will affect her ability to serve as an attorney of the day.

“I understand the necessity of knowing who I am and asking for ID,” Gray said. “I have no problem with presenting my Board of Overseers identification and my driver’s license, but inserting myself into their internal system, mug shot included, is just too much of a police state for me.”

Gray said she believed it was important to tell the judge on the record why he saw only one defense attorney at the jail, when he expected to see two.

“I don’t think the judge can do anything, but he needs to know I wasn’t just shirking my duties,” Gray said.

Reardon said a previous list had a number of people on it who are no longer accessing the jail, so the jail was updating it. Reardon also said several dozen people already had been screened and entered on the new list.

On Monday, after learning that Gray was had been denied access, he asked corrections officers to exercise their discretion with regard to attorneys entering the facility when they are assigned as lawyers of the day.

“We will be more flexible,” said Reardon, who encouraged the professionals to be patient while the process gets completed. “I would encourage them to contact the programs department to make sure their information is added to the list of professionals allowed to be admitted.”

Reardon said the screening process takes only minutes. The change does not affect other visitors to the jail, such as an inmate’s family and friends.

Last September, a change in screening at the Cumberland County jail in Portland caused a major flap when women professionals visiting inmates there were told they had to remove their underwire bras before entering that facility because the wires triggered a metal detector. Less than a week after that was brought to light by two attorneys, the sheriff there apologized to those affected and the practice was discontinued.

ADDED SAFETY

On Monday, a memo about the Kennebec County jail access policy change was posted on the inside of the jail’s exterior door. By Tuesday, the memo was hanging on the outside of the door. Gray said she had collected paperwork from the District Attorney’s Office for Monday’s cases and was able to send them in to Bourget with people who work for the Maine Pretrial Services program.

Bourget said he had not been screened previously, but the officer was available to do it when he went to the jail.

“They took my screen right there when I went in,” Bourget said. “I got lucky that the guy was right there and said, ‘I’ll do you right now.’ They already had my office number and office address. They wanted my Social Security number.”

The latter caused him to hesitate before giving it, he said. His photo was taken as well.

Bourget said there was a notice posted on the door to the secure part of the jail about contacting officers to be pre-screened.

“Someone had mentioned it to me, but I never did it,” Bourget said.

He said he was grateful Gray could get the paperwork to him for the defendants, and he was able to speak to and represent all of them.

“She got the discovery to me and I did them all,” Bourget said.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, the top prosecutor in Kennebec and Somerset counties, said she too was asked at the jail if she had been screened when she entered the jail on Monday for a meeting regarding the Criminogenic Addiction Recovery Academy program. She had not yet done so, and showed her DA card.

“It does make sense to have a safety measure,” she said.

SHOWING PROOF

Augusta attorney Lisa Whittier said she got screened when she first saw the notice posted at the jail a month ago.

Whittier said she visits clients at various other jails, including Two Bridges, Cumberland, Knox, Somerset and Machias and has not run into any access screening similar to Kennebec’s new policy.

“I have a Judicial Branch card with photo and an attorney’s bar card. What more do I need?” Whittier asked. “I don’t know why the Kennebec County jail is doing this. Out-of-town attorneys need to come here when they have clients incarcerated in this jail, just like we go out of town to visit clients other jails. We don’t go through that anywhere else.”

She said she was particularly concerned about Gray’s experience attempting to get into the jail to represent those in custody.

“That’s a courtroom,” Whittier said. “You let an attorney in a courtroom.”

Attorney Mitchell Flick, whose office is in Winthrop, heard about the screening requirement on Tuesday morning in court. “I’ll go over and do it now,” he said.

At 11 a.m. he walked back from the jail to the courthouse next door.

“Due to unforeseen circumstances, they couldn’t do it now and said to come back at 1 p.m.,” Flick said, an appointment he added it was unlikely he could keep.

Waterville Attorney Brad Grant served as one of the lawyers of the day at the jail last week. He said Tuesday he had not been aware of any changes in accessing the jail.

“As far as I’m concerned the jail’s always been good with me,” Grant said. “When you go in, they like to have proof of who you are.”

However, after hearing about Gray’s problem from another attorney, he contacted Reardon.

“The sheriff said he thought I was all set,” Grant said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

badams@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @betadams