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Jerry Brown's Office Recorded Calls With Reporters

Friday, 30 Oct 2009 12:15 PM

By Dan Weil

Scott Gerber, a spokesman for California Attorney General Jerry Brown, admits he taped phone conversations with reporters without disclosing that fact to them.

California law prohibits the recording of private telephone conversations without consent, and the state is one of 12 that require notification of all parties before taping.

Gerber made the admission to the San Francisco Chronicle after a story in the paper that detailed a consumer activist's criticisms of revisions the attorney general made to the summary of a ballot measure concerning auto insurance rates.

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The story’s author, Carla Marinucci, talked to officials in the attorney general’s office to get their views on the issue. Gerber was on the phone during the conversation and later complained about the story, sending a Chronicle editor a transcript of the interview.

Jim Humes, chief deputy attorney general, said in a statement to the Chronicle Thursday: "In the future, Mr. Gerber will not tape any conversation unless all parties agree." He added that Gerber has recorded "a few other conversations" with reporters and will contact them.

Obviously the news doesn’t reflect well on Brown, the Democratic favorite in the 2010 governor race.

"Here's the implication: Reporters now have one hell of a story about a guy who's running for governor of California," Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the Chronicle. "He's just lit a fire under a real big political thing."

David Greene, executive director of the First Amendment Project, said Brown's office "could make a decent argument that that's not a confidential communication and [the reporter] didn't have reasonable expectation of privacy," the Chronicle reported.

But Greene said the action raises a question of whether it is a "spooky government thing to do. I can't think of any reason why they would record surreptitiously. . . There's a gotcha quality to it."

When reporter Marinucci called Gerber and asked him why he recorded the conversation without telling her, he said, "To me, it's useful to have a record.”

When she asked if he taped conversations with other reporters, he responded: "Sure, I've done it before. Reporters routinely record my conversations."

At least Gerber can claim he didn’t go as far as one of his state’s companies, Hewlett Packard.

In 2006, HP’s general counsel contracted a team of independent security experts to investigate board members and several journalists to identify the source of an information leak.

Those security experts then recruited private investigators who impersonated the board members and journalists to obtain their phone records.

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