TMZ Accused Of Placing Hidden Mics In Courtroom

from the wait,-did-you-hear-that? dept

Technology and courtrooms have clashed before. Whether it's tweeting from court, judges connecting with lawyers via social media, or juries using the pesky interwebz during a trial, concern over how modern technology can trouble legal proceedings is nothing new. That said, what you will tend to find in examples like the above is, regardless of your thoughts on their impacts, that they usually stem from mostly innocuous intentions by all concerned.

Not so in the case of Alpha Walker, a man accused of attempting to extort ivory-tickler Stevie Wonder. Walker is bringing a lawsuit against TMZ, claiming the tabloid secretly placed hidden microphones in the courtroom at strategic locations to allow them to both hear conversations that would otherwise be inaudible as well as stream those recordings directly back to the company.

During the proceedings, Walker's attorneys objected to the presence of media in the courtroom and then the discussion evolved to the illicit microphones that were placed on the judge's bench and behind books on both sides of counsel table. According to the complaint, which asks for a permanent injunction, "It was then learned that these privileged communications were instantaneously transferred to the headquarters of TMZ Enterprises."
While I'm generally less concerned with the use of technology in courtrooms than some, this is likely to create some fairly large problems for TMZ if true. Judge Ray Jurado is understandably less than pleased and he's stated that he was unaware of the hidden mics and that this would absolutely not happen again. It seems clear that TMZ would know that this move was wrong, assuming it's true, given that they don't appear to have requested placement of their microphones. Fortunately, Judge Jurado has reviewed the recordings and stated that they don't contain any "discernible voices", but that doesn't mean that enhancements couldn't change that. TMZ, for their part, has declined to state that they would destroy the recordings.

Not surprisingly, this has opened up questions from Walker about his faith in the judicial process.
Walker says that as a result of TMZ's conduct, he has experienced "tremendous fear and distrust of the judicial system" and is suing for wiretapping, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and eavesdropping on confidential communication. He's seeking $100,000 in actual damages and more in punitive damages.

The complaint also asserts that TMZ's "conduct is ongoing" and violates attorney-client privilege. Asking for a permanent injunction over TMZ's alleged conduct, the plaintiff says "its threat to the public interest is tremendous. No matter who the alleged victim in a case is, there can be no lawful justification."
And it's hard to dismiss those claims. While I'm hard-pressed to think that this revelation has any material impact on Walker's case, I can certainly understand a degree of paranoia. Part of what makes for a fair trial is the setting of the court and its rules. If court security can't, you know, secure the court, and if there's even the slightest chance that hidden mics could pick up privileged information in a trial, it's a problem. In the future, any media member that wants to utilize technology in courtrooms needs to do so above board. The judicial process is simply too important to kneecap.



Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    kenichi tanaka, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 4:01pm

    If this is true, TMZ is not only in trouble in the face of the lawsuit but the judge whose courtroom they "bugged" with microphones could also land them with charges filed against them for wiretapping the judges courtroom.

    It's common knowledge that judges don't like it when their courtroom is bugged and I suspect that the judge will refer the matter to the district attorney.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 4:10pm

    This is always fun. It just gives the government more ammunition to go after people for things like the Bradley Manning recording.

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130312/13325322300/recording-bradley-mannings-state ment-court-leaked.shtml

    Next up, you're wanded before going into the courtroom. No cell phones allowed.

     

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  3.  
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    Lorpius Prime (profile), Apr 5th, 2013 @ 4:15pm

    As a technology enthusiast, I pretty much assume that surveillance technology will soon be good enough to make this kind of thing possible regardless of what sort of countermeasures a court could take. Or at least, good enough that effective countermeasures will be prohibitively expensive.

    So I wonder if the legal system can adapt to a world where keeping many privileged communications actually secret is impossible. I certainly hope so, as I don't think we can rely on bad actors to be shamed into good behavior by folks like Mr. Geigner telling them that "the judicial process is simply too important to kneecap."

     

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  4.  
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    Chris Brand, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 4:21pm

    Interesting

    I imagine that with the recordings from three microphones and some decent sound-modelling software, you could probably extract most of the conversations within the room. The individual recordings may not be much use separately, but there's a lot of synergy when multiple simultaneous recordings are available (like the way they use multiple antennae on wireless routers these days to turn multi-path reflections from a negative into a positive).

     

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  5.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 5th, 2013 @ 4:35pm

    Re: Interesting

    Yes, this. I wrote software a couple of decades ago that does this. It's quite effective. With today's hardware, it would be even more effective.

     

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  6.  
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    Nastybutler77 (profile), Apr 5th, 2013 @ 5:28pm

    And it's hard to dismiss those claims.

    Maybe some of the claims, but I think claiming "intentional infliction of emotional distress" is a bit of a stretch considering TMZ was trying to keep this on the DL. Maybe accidental infliction of emotional distress, but hardly intentional.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 6:43pm

    I think this may be important

    Wait a minute... From the article linked:

    "The case is murky because the judge in the matter, Ray Jurado, had allowed the recording to occur, and the court's staff apparently was involved in the placement of the microphones."

    If indeed the court staff allowed the microphone on the judge's bench, then there's no case. It was stupid of the court staff, but not a crime.

     

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  8.  
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    kenichi tanaka, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 8:38pm

    Not even that but recording the conversation between an attorney and his client? That must violate all kinds of privilege and could end up with Walker demanding a mistrial and that his constitutional rights were violated by the act of TMZ.

    This does not look good for the prosecution, the judge nor for the case against Walker. Walker could end up having his case dismissed due to the actions of a third party.

     

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  9.  
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    Wolfy, Apr 6th, 2013 @ 8:38am

    Re: Wanding

    Since 2001, we've been getting wanded going into any courthouse or police station.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 6th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Wanding

    "Since 2001, we've been getting wanded going into any courthouse or police station."

    It depends on the courthouse or police station. Of the four courthouses I have entered in the past year, two had security and two did not.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous, Apr 6th, 2013 @ 10:34am

    Re: Re: Wanding

    Roxy got her eye on you!

     

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  12.  
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    Gene Cavanaugh (profile), Apr 6th, 2013 @ 12:58pm

    TMZ

    Right on!

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 8th, 2013 @ 1:51am

    Re: I think this may be important

    Judge Jurado has said he was unaware of the microphones. As for court staff, NO. The judge an authorise trhe filming of a case, nobody else.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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