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Epiblogue: An attorney general’s opinion that’s 100 percent Oscar Mayer

Submitted by on Wednesday, 11 November 2009 No Comment

Quickly after the covert tape-recording habits of those in Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office came to light, his apologistsĀ  began trying to recast state privacy law.

An interview? Oh, that’s not a confidential communication. It was perfectly legal for our office to tape conversations with reporters without their consent. Who cares what the Supreme Court says.

This week, the excuses reached the level of high comedy when Brown’s office completed its investigation and concluded that the recordings were perfectly legal. Or so says The Sacramento Bee. There’s nothing about it on the AG’s Web site – Brown’s too busy addressing Anna Nicole Smith’s boyfriend to discuss breaches in his office.

I bet that investigation was a hoot, though. “We didn’t break the law, did we? No, we didn’t. OK, issue settled. Where are we going to have lunch?”

The ruling is, of course, unadulterated baloney and pure political butt coverage from the former/would-be-again governor. Not that it matters, because the results of Brown’s internal investigation carry no weight at all.

This doesn’t even appear to be an official AG’s opinion, which government agencies can ask for if they’re unsure as how to proceed in legal matters. Though Brown’s office claims they’re given “great legal weight,” even an official attorney general’s opinion is not binding on courts. Particularly not when a court already has ruled to the contrary, as it has in the case of California’sĀ  law that requires consent from all parties to a conversation before anyone can record it.

One First Amendment expert said he agreed with Brown’s ruling and thought it suggested state prosecutors would be less likely to go after journalists who covertly record interviews. Hmm … I wouldn’t bank on that if I were still getting paid to tote a notepad. Not that I would record without consent anyway – even when I worked in states that required consent from only one party, I always asked those I was interviewing if they minded if I recorded.

It’s an issue for more than journalists, of course. It’s an issue for anyone who doesn’t want other people recording their words without their consent.

And those people deserve more than an attorney general willing to upend state law simply because his staff has stepped in it.

Copyright Debra Legg 2009. All rights reserved.

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