Sunday, August 22, 2004

Judge: Accepting Boehner phone tape illegal



The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A federal judge has sided with Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, in his 6-year-old suit against Rep. James McDermott, D-Wash., over an illegally recorded phone call.

Boehner of West Chester sued McDermott after a Florida couple, using a scanner, recorded a 1996 conference call in which Boehner, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich and other House leaders discussed strategy involving announcement of an ethics committee finding against Gingrich.

The couple gave the tape to McDermott, who was on the ethics committee at the time, and the contents ended up in news stories.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan ruled Friday that McDermott "participated in an illegal transaction when he accepted the tape."

McDermott had admitted leaking the taped phone conversation to reporters. But he argued that he did not break the law by receiving the tape and that punishing him for making it public would violate his free-speech rights.

The judge said McDermott had no First Amendment protection because he knew he was receiving a recording that had been illegally obtained.

Hogan set a hearing for Sept. 16 to discuss whether Boehner should be awarded punitive damages and attorney costs.

Calls to the offices of Boehner and McDermott were not returned Saturday.

Hogan had dismissed the case in 1998, saying the charges amounted to partisan politics. But a divided appeals court reinstated it the next year.

McDermott appealed to the Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appeals court. That court allowed Boehner to amend his suit and argue it again.

The couple who taped the call pleaded guilty in 1997 to unlawfully intercepting a phone conversation and paid $500 each in fines.




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