A Michigan judge Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit accusing an attorney of illegal eavesdropping while representing former art gallery owners in a dispute with painter Thomas Kinkade and his California company.
Filed in March by Thomas Kinkade Co. of Morgan Hill, Calif., the lawsuit alleged that attorney Joseph Ejbeh improperly transmitted over the Internet a live feed of arbitration testimony to Terry Sheppard, a witness in the case last year.
Sheppard allegedly used the instantaneously transcribed testimony to help Ejbeh formulate questions for other witnesses, according to the lawsuit, which contended the practice was illegal under Michigan's eavesdropping law. However, Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Rudy J. Nichols ruled that no laws were broken.
"The eavesdropping statute requires that the alleged eavesdropping be practiced in a private conversation," said Ejbeh's attorney, Steven M. Wolock. "The judge found that an arbitration proceeding is not a private conversation."
Representatives for Thomas Kinkade Co. could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit was dismissed against all defendants, including Sheppard and Norman Yatooma & Associates, the firm for which Ejbeh worked at the time. Ejbeh and Yatooma had contended that the lawsuit was in retaliation for an $860,000 decision they had won a week earlier against the company on behalf of former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners.
In the arbitration case, a panel ruled that the company and one of its executives, Richard Barnett, had fraudulently induced the former owners to invest $122,000 in the first of their two stores, licensed to deal exclusively in the work of Kinkade, who describes himself as the "painter of light."