PHILADELPHIA ATTORNEY WHO THOUGHT HE WAS “OFF THE RECORD” CANNOT STOP DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS FROM INCLUDING THE FOOTAGE
On June 11, 2019, U.S. District Court Judge, Gerald McHugh, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted documentary filmmakers summary judgment holding that prominent Philadelphia attorney, A. Charles Peruto (“Peruto”), did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when he was caught on tape criticizing city Judge Genece Brinkley.
Peruto was looking to block critical comments he made about his then client Judge Brinkley from an upcoming Amazon documentary about rapper Meek Mill’s criminal case before Judge Brinkley. Judge McHugh said, “Mr. Peruto spoke freely in front of a room full of individuals, some of whom he did not know, in the presence of recording equipment…Peruto knew the recording devices had just been recording, yet he began disparaging his client before he even had time to fully remove his microphone.” Judge McHugh added “that his conclusion was especially true given that Peruto, who is frequently interviewed by local media, was experienced in dealing with journalists…Peruto knew he was disparaging his client to journalists working on a documentary series about a controversy in which public opinion has been hostile to [Judge Brinkley]…For a journalist to catch an interview subject in a fundamental contradiction is a prized coup, something Mr. Peruto would well understand.”
Peruto had accused the production team behind the documentary of violating state and federal wiretap laws when he was recorded criticizing Judge Brinkley’s handling of the Meek Mill case. Peruto represented the Judge as she faced questions last year over decisions she made in Mill’s case, including a two-to-four-year prison sentence she handed down for violations of his probation stemming from a drug and weapons conviction more than a decade ago. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ultimately decided to free Mill on bail last April as he continues to challenge his original conviction.
Peruto filed suit in September of 2018 alleging that his comments, which were leaked to the press, had been illegally recorded after he indicated to the filmmakers that he wanted to go off the record.
In his decision against Peruto, Judge McHugh further explained “that over the course of the litigation, there had been no statement from Peruto that he wanted anything he said to be off the record…Instead, Peruto simply began speaking off the cuff as he attempted to remove his microphone after the two people questioning him indicated they had no more questions… Although Mr. Peruto attempted to remove the microphone inside his shirt, he did even not wait until he had fully removed the microphone or ensured it was off before beginning to disparage his client…He launched into the candid commentary described above only two seconds after reaching for that microphone.”
While Judge McHugh agreed to toss claims over an alleged wiretap violation, he said that additional claims could be anticipated by Peruto depending on how Peruto winds up being portrayed in the documentary; “It remains to be seen how the documentary itself presents Mr. Peruto and whether its portrayal of him gives rise to any other claims.”
Peruto is represented by James Beasley and Louis Tumolo of the Beasley Firm LLC.
Amazon is represented by Michael Berry and Elizabeth Seidlin-Bernstein of Ballard Spahr LLP.
Roc Nation, which is producing the documentary, is represented by Joshua Peles, Jordan Siev and Kim Watterson of Reed Smith LLP.
The cases are A. Charles Peruto Jr. v. Roc Nation et al., case numbers 2:18-cv-04468 and 2:18-cv-04818, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
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