Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Court ruling pleases lawyer opposing Boehner in lawsuit

The Associated Press

        WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court's ruling Monday in a case involving a secretly recorded cellphone conversation heartened the lawyer for Rep. Jim McDermott, who is being sued by a colleague from Ohio.

        “I think it's a very good result for us,” said lawyer Frank Cicero. “I think it squarely applies to Mr. McDermott.”

        A lawsuit filed by Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, accuses Mr. McDermott, D-Wash., of revealing the contents of a pirated Boehner cellphone conversation to newspapers that published excerpts from it.

        The case that concluded Mon day had several parallels with the congressman-against-congressman case, but Mr. Boehner's attorney, Michael Carvin, said the facts were different, and Mr. Boehner should still prevail.

        In addition, he noted, Mr. McDermott is a public official and “nondisclosure requirements can be imposed on public officials more easily than the private entities involved” in the Pennsylvania case.

        In Monday's 6-3 ruling, the Supreme Court said a radio host cannot be sued for airing an illegally taped telephone conversation. The court said the First Amendment trumps wiretap laws in the case of the host who played a recording made by someone else.

        Both cases attracted the attention of news media organizations because of the implications over whether they can publish or broadcast the contents of illegally intercepted phone conversations.

        Federal law prohibits intentionally intercepting calls from cellular telephones, if the person making the recording knew it was illegal.

        In the case that led to Mr. Boehner's lawsuit, a Florida couple pleaded guilty to using a radio scanner to intentionally intercept the call in 1996.

        The couple gave the tape to Mr. McDermott, then the ranking Democrat on the House ethics committee, and the contents of the tape surfaced in news stories.

        Mr. Boehner, who was vacationing in Florida, had used his cellular telephone to participate in a conference call with other members of the House Republican leadership.

        An ethics panel had just ruled that then-Speaker Newt Gingrich violated House rules in his use of tax-exempt organizations. A published transcript of the tape showed Mr. Gingrich discussing how to react to the ethics charges, the same day he promised not to orchestrate a response.


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