An attorney who made “embarrassing statements” about his client to the makers of an Amazon documentary about rapper Meek Mill’s controversial incarceration lost on claims that the filmmakers violated wiretap laws by recording the statements after the cameras were off.
Attorney A. Charles Peruto Jr. was hired to represent Judge Genece Brinkley after she controversially imprisoned Robert Rihmeek Williams, a.k.a. Meek Mill, for violating his probation.
Peruto gave an interview to the filmmakers for the documentary series "#FreeMeek,” produced by Roc Nation and Amazon Alternative. The documentary series was to focus on Meek Mill’s experience with the criminal justice system, including his interactions with Brinkley. After the filmmakers turned off the camera, Peruto made critical remarks about the judge that were caught by his lavalier microphone.
According to the court, Peruto never said he was going off the record, and the filmmakers didn’t say they had stopped the audio recording. Peruto’s comments and parts of the recording were leaked to the press.
Peruto brought suit under the Pennsylvania and Federal Wiretap Acts, alleging the continued recording without his knowledge and consent was illegal. He also brought a claim of replevin, which is to take possession of a disputed piece of property during the pendency of the litigation.
The audio files were “intangible property beyond the reach of replevin,” the court said in ruling against Peruto. Peruto also argued that he had a property interest in the words themselves, but the court said that “no court has held that the contents of a recording are subject to replevin.”
“This case would be markedly different if Plaintiff himself had created a recording of the interview and Defendants wrongfully took possession of the physical device containing it,” Judge Gerald Austin McHugh of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said in the June 12 decision. “But those are not the facts, and Peruto cannot show that his words—either independently or as bytes of data captured in an electronic format—constitute property recoverable in replevin.”
Peruto’s wiretap claims failed because he didn’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Peruto never attempted to go off the record, and while he attempted to remove the lavalier microphone, he didn’t fully remove it “before beginning to disparage his client.”
“He launched into the candid commentary described above only two seconds after reaching for that microphone. On these facts, I cannot conclude that Peruto exhibited an expectation of privacy,” the court said.
The Beasley Firm LLC represented Peruto. Reed Smith LLP represented Roc Nation. Ballard Spahr LLP represented Amazon.
The case is Peruto v. Roc Nation, E.D. Pa., No. 18-4468, 6/12/19.