Secretly Recording A Spouse Has A Price: $120,000.00

An article from Ars Technica discusses a woman who secretly put a recording device in a teddy bear to prove allegations that her estranged spouse was mistreating their daughter.  Not only did the family law court rule that the recordings were inadmissible, but the husband (“Duke”) sued the wife (“Dianna”) in federal court for, among other things, violation of the federal Wiretap Act.  From the article:

When Duke filed the federal lawsuit against Dianna in 2009, he also rounded up five other plaintiffs whose conversations had been recorded by the bear. One plaintiff, a cousin of Duke’s, at one point had the bear in his van for several days after it was left there accidentally; the cousin, going through his own divorce at the time, was upset that his conversations had been recorded and eventually distributed to people involved with Duke and Dianna’s custody case.

Another of the plaintiffs was a social worker who monitored “supervised visits” of children and who had driven the daughter between her parents’ houses. The social worker was already unhappy about being involved with the case because Dianna had once tried to “hire someone to follow her outside of visits,” but she elected to stay on because the daughter was making “significant progress” during her visits with Duke. Finding out that many of her own conversations had been recorded affected the social worker professionally, as she “stopped taking private cases due to the invasions of privacy caused by this incident.”

(The bear also impacted the daughter’s life directly, as the daughter left her daycare after the operators learned that the bear had been “bugging” the site.)

In total, then, the case was brought by Duke and five other plaintiffs, all of whom alleged Wiretap Act violations against Dianna and her father. Defense lawyers argued that Dianna could give “vicarious consent” for recording on behalf of her daughter, which would give the recordings at least the consent of one party. But when federal magistrate judge F.A. Gosset III ruled on the case three weeks ago, he pointed out that this was immaterial; the bear had “recorded many oral communications made by each of the plaintiffs” and to which the daughter was not a party. Under federal law, this amounted to a wiretap, and one which the defendants had intentionally tried to use.

The Wiretap Act allows people to file civil lawsuits and to recover either actual damages or statutory damages of $10,000. In this case, the judge hit Dianna with a $10,000 damage award—one payable to each of the six defendants. Her father Sam received the same penalty, for a total payout of $120,000. No punitive damages were awarded, nor was anything given to the plaintiffs for invasion of privacy or mental suffering.

In his ruling, the judge noted that the Wiretap Act has a strict standard which prohibits all wiretapping—even that of a parent looking to hear conversations with her child—unless specifically exempted by the law.

Technology law attorney Evan Brown called the case a tough decision, as “a parent fearing for the safety of his or her child might have strong reasons to resort to eavesdropping to protect the child.” Even the judge seemed to agree that there might be some merit to this argument, but he noted that it was for Congress to determine the law, and that the existing law here was clear.

About Adam B. Cordover, Attorney-at-Law

Family Diplomacy is dedicated to helping clients restructure their families privately and respectfully. We practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce and family law, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services. We maintain this out-of-court practice because we strongly believe that family disputes should be resolved in a private conference room, not in a hostile and public courtroom environment. This unique perspective on family law stems back to Adam B. Cordover’s experience studying International Affairs in Washington, D.C., and abroad. Adam had the rare opportunity to work closely with ambassadors and diplomats from war-torn regions around the world. He traveled around the globe, learning from diplomatic leaders as they applied dispute resolution techniques to tackle seemingly impossible conflicts. It dawned on him: If these techniques can work in the complex world of International Relations, why not Domestic Relations and Family Law? This realization lead Adam to create an exclusively out-of-court practice and to bring a more peacemaking approach to family law. In his previous role as a litigation attorney, Adam witnessed parties experience the negative emotional and financial effects that long, drawn out divorce battles can have on families. As a result, Adam has become a strong proponent of the Collaborative Process, where a structure is put in place so that life’s hardest moments do not have to be any more difficult than necessary. A thought leader in the international collaborative law community, Adam successfully spearheaded an effort of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit to draft an administrative order safeguarding the principles of collaborative family law (just the fourth such administrative order in Florida). Adam has been featured in or interviewed about collaborative practice by the Tampa Bay Times, Tampa Tribune, Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Florida Bar News, NBC, Fox 13, Bay News 9, ABC Action News, The World of Collaborative Practice Magazine, and Spirit FM 90.5. Adam regularly speaks at professional and civic organizations locally and internationally regarding the collaborative process. Adam B. Cordover is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest interdisciplinary collaborative practice group with member attorneys, mental health professionals, and financial professionals throughout Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties. Adam is also on the Executive Board and co-chair of the Research Committee of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida. Further, Adam is a graduate of the inaugural class of the Leadership Academy of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. You can learn more about us and our services at www.FamilyDiplomacy.com. Attorney Adam B. Cordover is admitted to the Florida Bar and the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. His office is located at 412 East Madison Street, Suite 824, Tampa, Florida 33602.
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One Response to Secretly Recording A Spouse Has A Price: $120,000.00

  1. Pingback: Secretly Recording A Spouse Has A Price: $120000.00 | ABC Family … | Child Custody Attorneys

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