Former ACORN Worker Can Sue Right-Winger on Privacy Claim
SAN DIEGO (CN) - A federal judge refused to throw out claims that a right-wing activist violated the privacy of an ACORN worker who was taped counseling defendant James O'Keefe, who sought advice on how to fill his house with underage prostitutes.
Juan Carlos Vera sued O'Keefe and his associate Hanna Giles in Federal Court on privacy claims, after O'Keefe secretly filmed Vera at an ACORN office in National City in 2009.
The now-famous series of ACORN recordings featured O'Keefe posing as pimp, dressed in a chinchilla coat, while Giles was disguised as a prostitute.
"The edited video depicted plaintiff as conspiring to promote an underage prostitution business by agreeing to help defendants file fraudulent tax forms and smuggle underage girls from Mexico," U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz wrote in his order denying defendants' request for summary judgment.
Vera, who said he contacted police shortly after the activists' peculiar visit, sued them in the summer of 2010.
O'Keefe sought summary judgment, claiming that Vera had no expectation of privacy when the conversation was taped.
But Judge Lorenz found a "genuine dispute as to whether plaintiff's [Vera's] expectation of privacy was reasonable."
"ACORN is in the business of providing counseling and support for the community on various matters," Lorenz wrote. "By its very nature, the organization handles personal matters with individual clients. Defendants walked into ACORN and asked for plaintiff's help with tax forms. ... Specifically, they solicited his help with setting up an illegal prostitution business with underaged girls. ... Plaintiff, as a worker for an organization like ACORN, reasonably believed that the content of the conversation was sensitive enough that it would remain private."
O'Keefe duped Vera by asking if the conversation would remain confidential, before he launched into details of the nonexistent scheme, Lorenz wrote.
Over the course of a 40-minute conversation, Lorenz noted, the three "abruptly paused their conversation" after Vera's supervisor, David Lagstein, entered the office, and continued talking after the supervisor left.
"Based on the surrounding circumstances, plaintiff reasonably believed that the conversation was private because it was held in his office with no one else present, and he believed that no one else was listening in on his conversation," Lorenz wrote.
Because of this "genuine dispute," Lorenz denied O'Keefe's motion for summary judgment.
"Defendant O'Keefe testified that he had previously recorded investigative videos like this without obtaining permission from the person being recorded. He misled plaintiff to believe that the conversation would remain confidential by posing as a client seeking services from ACORN and asking whether their conversation was confidential. Defendants further affirmed the confidential nature of the conversation by asking plaintiff whether the conversation was recorded," Lorenz wrote.
O'Keefe shot undercover videos in several ACORN offices and prompted outrage after being broadcast on Fox News and BigGovernment.com.
Congress voted to freeze funding to ACORN, which was known for voter drives and organizing in poor communities. The nonprofit closed up shop after filing for Chapter 7 liquidation in late 2010.
Neither Vera nor O'Keefe's attorney immediately responded to requests for comment.