PHILADELPHIA (CN) – A lawyer’s unflattering comments about a judge’s handling of rapper Meek Mill’s criminal case cannot be considered off the record and were therefore not taped or leaked illegally, another judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling was a defeat for Philadelphia criminal attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. and a win for record label Roc Nation, Mill’s agents and producers of a documentary about the rapper’s high-profile struggles with the criminal justice system.
Mill’s well-documented legal battles have spurred a criminal justice reform organization spearheaded by Jay-Z and a #FreeMeek documentary series.
Peruto was interviewed for the film project because of his representation of Genece Brinkley, the embattled Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas judge whose handling of Mill’s gun and drug case has been criticized after she sentenced the rapper to a multi-year prison term and then defied public outcry to give him a new trial. Mill was granted a July retrial this past Monday.
After being interviewed, Peruto reportedly did not even wait until he had removed a microphone from his collar before ripping into his client, allegedly stating, “That was hard to do because defending this judge is now becoming – why doesn’t she just grant this fucking thing?”
When Peruto badmouthed Brinkley, the camera had been turned off but the audio was still recording, and the attorney reportedly never told interviewers that what he was about to say was off the record.
When his comments were subsequently leaked to the press, Peruto fired back in court, contending in a lawsuit that he did make an off-the-record disclaimer before making the colorful statement about his client, but that it was edited out.
But a court-appointed expert analysis of the recording doesn’t support that claim, according to Thursday’s ruling, nor does Peruto’s contention stand up under the language of either Pennsylvania state law or the federal Wiretap Act.
Both laws require a speaker to have “a reasonable expectation of privacy” during an oral communication in order to claim violations, U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh wrote.
The 13-page decision notes that Peruto was discussing a hotly controversial subject in a room full of people, some of whom were strangers to him and others of whom were reporters looking for a story, and that he had in fact just finished making recorded statements in furtherance of that story.
“Although Mr. Peruto attempted to remove the microphone inside his shirt, he did not even wait until he had fully removed the microphone or ensured it was off before beginning to disparage his client,” McHugh wrote.
The lawyer therefore could not reasonably expect privacy under the circumstances even if he had stated that his comments were off the record, the judge found.
Peruto’s office referred a request for comment to his attorney, who did not immediately return a call to his firm.
Roc Nation, meanwhile, declined to comment on the ruling.