Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Man Sues TMZ For Planting Microphones in Courtroom During His Hearing

Alpha Walker -- a man who claimed to be Stevie Wonder's nephew and threatened to sell false information about the singer unless he was paid $5 million and was sentenced to 292 days in jail as a result -- is suing TMZ (along with EHM Productions, Time Warner and photographer Christopher Manivong) claiming it "surreptitiously placed microphones on the judge's bench and behind books at counsel table for both the prosecution and defense" during his hearing last September in order to "instantaneously transfer" privileged communications to the gossip site. According to the suit, Christopher is responsible for placing the microphones in the courtroom.
In the transcript, Judge Ray Jurado and attorneys discuss the discovery of the microphones, and ask Manivong to explain what the microphones were doing there. Deputy District Attorney Frances Young asks the court to confiscate all the microphones. Judge Jurado says: "I would like to state for the record that I was not aware of this microphone. Had I been aware, I would have made sure that it was either removed from the bench when we have sidebar conference or turned off or both. This will not happen again." [...] After an off-the-record discussion, Judge Jurado says he has "just been made aware that there was, unbeknownst to counsel and the court, a microphone placed at counsel table. Counsel has a concern that audio may have been recorded of their discussions, which should not have been recorded at counsel table." In response to a question from the judge, Young says, "It appears it [the microphone] was placed in a way that it wasn't apparent. So, based on that, I don't believe this particular organization-if you don't confiscate the devices, I think we'd almost be, not condoning it, but it would be evidence of a crime, so that's the basis for my request." According to the transcript, Young continues: "I realize it's an unusual request, but I also, in 16 years, have never-and I've done many media cases, never had a media organization surreptitiously record a bench officer, a D.A. and two defense attorneys." [...] Judge Jurado asks Manivong, then 26, to identify himself and explain himself. Wallach asks the judge to order Manivong and TMZ not to broadcast anything he surreptitiously recorded. [Walker's attorney, Ian Wallach] points out that if all counsel and the judge listen to what Manivong has recorded, the mere act of listening "is going to be damaging to the defense." Jurado asks Manivong if there is "any reason" why he should not accede to Wallach's request. Manivong claims that he turned the recording devices off "when you guys went on sidebar." Manivong claims that "Procedure for many courts that I have recorded, whenever everyone goes up to the sidebar, everything goes off, nothing is recorded. ..." The judge asks, "What about at counsel table?" Manivong replies, "Everything was low." Wallach asks: "But is there information that-there is data that could turn into the substance of our conversation that someone could process and play and learn what was said, correct?" Manivong replies: "Unfortunately, due to law we're not allowed to broadcast out. If it's not on the record - " Wallach cuts him off: "That's not my question. My question is does it exist; does the data exist? I believe the answer is, yes, it does." Manivong denies it Attorney Young enters the colloquy: "To protect the court, your honor, if I may. Because it's the act of placing the devices that is the criminal conduct, whether or not it's successful or not, my recommendation would be that we turn-you confiscate both devices, turn them over to the Sheriff's Department, allow the Sheriff's Department to conduct their own investigation as to whether or not anything was compromised ..." After going off record to listen to and watch TMZ's audio and video tapes in chambers, and returning to the record, Young calls Manivong and TMZ's actions "illegal and underhanded." Judge Jurado says that upon listening to the tapes, "there was no discernible voices that were audio recorded, at least with regard to the sidebar conference between the court and counsel. With regard to the microphone at counsel table there were also no recordings of discussions between counsel in this case on the tape. There is a brief moment when Mr. Walker was shown on the [video] tape just prior to the court ruling that the media could be present in the courtroom." Manivong recorded the videotape before the hearing began or as it began. Walker's lawsuit against TMZ describes the events somewhat differently. The complaint states that he was appearing in Superior Court with co-defendant Diaz on charges that they "attempted to extort Steveland Morris, who is also known as 'Stevie Wonder' ... During the hearing, the judge discovered that a microphone had been placed on a bench without his knowledge, and that privileged sidebar conversations had been recorded. It was then discovered that separate microphones had been hidden at both sides of counsel table, capturing privileged conversations of counsel for the prosecution and counsel for the defense. It was then learned that these privileged communications were instantaneously transferred to the headquarters of TMZ Enterprises, Inc, ('TMZ').

source: CN
At the hearing, Alpha pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 292 days in jail and released for time served. The Diaz person mention above is Tamara Diaz. She's Alpha's girlfriend. She was also accused of extortion and was released for time served, too. In addition to time served, Alpha was ordered to get mental health counseling and told Tamara she had to go to 78 Narcotics Anonymous meetings. For his lawsuits against TMZ, Alpha is seeking an injunction and punitive damages for privacy invasion, wiretap violations, criminal violations, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

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