CLEVELAND — A federal judge's dismissal of a case against the American Broadcasting Co. and television reporter Geraldo Rivera has been called a breakthrough for the use of secret recording devices by reporters.
U.S. District Judge Alice Bachelder ruled Thursday that reporters may use secret recording devices to record events and conversations as long as the reporters use the recording equipment for the purpose of gathering news.
"It's a clear endorsement of freedom of the press," Cleveland lawyer Terrence J. Clark told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Clark, who represented ABC in the case, said the decision will aid investigative reporters across the country who have been concerned whether they could use a recorder to tape interviews without the consent of the person or persons being interviewed.
The case resulted from a 1980 ABC news magazine "20/20" program concerning alleged sexual misconduct of former Summit County Probate Judge James V. Barbuto.
Sandra A. Boddie of Akron filed a $40 million suit against ABC-TV and Rivera, claiming the report depicted her as a prostitute and that a hidden television camera and recorder were used without her permission during an interview in her home.
Boddie sued for defamation of character, being depicted in a false light, invasion of privacy and violation of federal wiretap laws.
The case was initially dismissed in 1982 and was appealed to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, which returned it to Cleveland U.S. District Court for trial on the wiretap charge.
Richard Sternberg, Boddie's lawyer, argued the taping constituted an injurious act to his client. ABC argued the section of the federal law pertaining to an injurious act did not apply to reporters who were gathering news.