LOS ANGELES (CN) – An attorney filed a class action accusing a Los Angeles Times business columnist of recording telephone conversations without his interviewees’ consent, in violation of state wiretap law. In California a recorded call requires the consent of all parties on the line, so if one speaker records a call without informing the other, it is called wiretapping.
Los Angeles attorney Robert B. Silverman claims Michael Hiltzik illegally wiretapped him, and may have recorded hundreds, or thousands, of such telephone conversations. Silverman’s allegation is made under California Penal Code section 632.
“Commencing in February 2010, Mr. Silverman, an attorney-at-law, received telephone inquires from defendant Hiltzik concerning various stories and articles he was writing and intended to publish as columns in the Los Angeles Times newspaper,” according to the Superior Court complaint. “Mr. Hiltzik telephoned Mr. Silverman from the telephone number (562) 252- 1518. Mr. Silverman responded to each telephone inquiry by providing information concerning the various articles which defendant Hiltzik was writing and by defending his clients against false and misleading claims and accusations defendant Hiltzik made.”
Silverman says he learned on Sept. 8 this year that Hiltzik had been recording their conversations, when Hiltzik sent him an email revealing that the 562 number was a recorded line.
“When Mr. Silverman spoke to defendant Hiltzik on the telephone line, defendant did not disclose the conversations were recorded, nor did defendant Hiltzik request consent to his electronic recording and interception of the telephone conversation. Mr. Silverman did not give his consent to defendant’s wiretapping activities,” the complaint states.
Silverman’s attorney Jeffrey Krinsk told Courthouse News: “Mr. Silverman has long been a person who has been protective of privacy rights and expected a renowned reporter and highly respected publication to ensure that illegal recording of telephonic conversations was safeguarded against.”
Krinsk added: “If it ends up being as widespread a condition as Mr. Silverman believes, we are essentially looking at a Murdoch-type situation.”
(The allegations in Silverman’s 9-page complaint actually do not resemble the wiretapping scandal that undid Rupert Murdoch’s “News of the World.” Those wiretaps involved third parties and hacking, not one person recording calls with a second person.)
According to the complaint, Hiltzik also tape recorded interviewees who called him.
“Defendant’s conduct shocks the conscience of the reasonable person and constitutes an extreme intrusion into Mr. Silverman’s and class members privacy and emotional well being,” according to the complaint.
Silverman claims that Hiltzik’s emailed statement was not only “an admission of criminal conduct” but is “an intimidation and precondition preventing interviewees from responding to defendant’s false and misleading articles, in addition to an unreasonable intimidation preventing the public from freely responding to defendant’s editorial misstatements.”
Silverman claims Hiltzik’s conduct not only violated state law but the newspaper’s ethic guidelines, which state: “People who will be shown in an adverse light in an article must be given a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. This means making a good-faith effort to give the subject of allegations or criticism sufficient time and information to respond substantively. Whenever possible, the reporter should meet face-to-face with the subject in a sincere effort to understand his or her best arguments.”
Silverman claims that neither he nor other interviewees were given a “meaningful opportunity to defend themselves.”
“Defendant’s representations that he abides by the ethics guidelines are false, and defendant knows they are false because he does not make a ‘good faith effort to give the subject of allegations or criticism sufficient time and information to respond substantively.’ Instead, defendant intimidates his interviewees, conditions their response on providing recorded telephone interviews, and fails to obtain their consent when he wiretaps and records their telephone conversations,” according to the complaint.
An L.A. Times vice president called it “another baseless lawsuit filed by Mr. Silverman.”
Nancy Sullivan told Courthouse News: “Mr. Hiltzik has not been served, but this is just another baseless lawsuit filed by Mr. Silverman. This time he is the plaintiff. Three other lawsuits he filed against the Los Angeles Times and its employees have been thrown out of court. We are confident that this latest vexatious lawsuit also will be thrown out.”