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Court Allows Secret Recording Suit

June 25, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The California Supreme Court has ruled that news gatherers may be sued for infiltrating a workplace and secretly recording an employee.

A state appeals court had overturned $1.2 million verdict awarded to Mark Sanders, an employee of a psychic hotline whose conversations with a reporter posing as a co-worker were broadcast nationally on ABC.

The appeals court had ruled that the clandestine taping did not violate his privacy because his conversations were in an open area of the workplace and could have been overheard by others.

But the high court ruled Thursday that employees have a right to expect that private conversations with co-workers will not be secretly taped and broadcast to others.

The court did not order Sanders’ damages reinstated, saying the appellate court must still consider other issues in the case.

The opinion by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar did say a news organization may be able to defend a secret recording by showing that it was necessary for news coverage. The recording may also be easier to defend if the workplace is open to the public, Werdegar said.

Sanders was videotaped by ABC News reporter Stacy Lescht, who had answered a want ad for a business advertising telephone psychic advice for $3.95 a minute.

Using a hidden camera and microphone, she recorded two conversations with Sanders at their work cubicles in a large room divided by partitions. Six seconds of the tape were shown on ABC News’s ``Prime Time Live.″

``My hope is that now ABC will curtail its nasty and abusive practices and consider apologizing,″ said Neville Johnson, Sanders’ attorney.

ABC said it will consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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