It seemed like a perfect story for TMZ: A man and his girlfriend were accused of attempting to extort money from music legend Stevie Wonder. But in May 2012, in Los Angeles Superior Court, the network itself became the story when, midway through a pretrial hearing, hidden microphones belonging to TMZ were discovered in three locations: behind books at counsel tables for both the prosecution and defense, and on presiding Judge Ray Jurado's bench, where they potentially could record secret and privileged communications - and transmit them instantaneously to TMZ.
Last March, defendant Alpha Walker's attorney, Ian Wallach, filed a federal suit against TMZ and its cameraman for violations including invasion of privacy, eavesdropping, and jeopardizing his client's defense. (Walker v. TMZ Productions, Inc.
, No. Civ. 13-02268 (C.D. Cal.).)
"In 16 years [I] have never ... had a media organization surreptitiously record a bench officer, a DA and two defense attorneys," said Francis Young, the deputy district attorney, when the mics were discovered. She requested that the equipment be confiscated.
The cameraman, Christopher Manivong, said he had permission to bring microphones into the courtroom (albeit in full view) and that he had been following standard TMZ policy: The volume was turned down during sidebar discussions. "Your Honor," he told Judge Jurado, "I can say in confidence that nothing was recorded when you guys went on sidebar."
After the court reviewed the video and audio recordings and concluded that they con- tained no discernible privileged conversations, Manivong was reprimanded but allowed to keep his equipment.
Walker's lawsuit against TMZ and Manivong sought a minimum of $100,000 in damages. However, it was settled within two months, on undisclosed terms. - S.S.