Conservative activist James O'Keefe and his associate Hanna Giles will face a lawsuit from a former ACORN employee featured prominently in their 2009 undercover sting video, after a federal judge refused to throw out the case.
According to Courthouse News, U.S. District Judge M. James Lorenz decided last week that a breach of privacy claim from Juan Carlos Vera, a one-time employee of ACORN's office in National City, Calif., had merit.
ACORN is a now-defunct housing and community advocacy group targeted by O'Keefe in a highly publicized and heavily edited 2009 sting video. The fallout from O'Keefe's operation eventually prompted Congress to strip the organization of federal funding, eventually leading to its bankruptcy.
Vera sued O'Keefe and Giles in 2010, claiming that they had violated California privacy laws in their filming of the high-profile video, which was featured prominently on cable news and right-wing blogs. In the hidden-camera video, O'Keefe and Giles come to Vera seeking advice on setting up a prostitution ring involving underage sex workers from Mexico. Vera has maintained that O'Keefe vowed to keep the meeting confidential, a claim that O'Keefe has denied. Vera eventually obliged their request, though it's not entirely clear why. He reportedly claimed to have gone "along with the conversation in hopes of getting information from the couple that he could provide to law enforcement in the event they were telling the truth." He later contacted authorities about the unusual visit, but was fired in the aftermath of the selectively edited video's release.
In his ruling, Lorenz found a "genuine dispute as to whether [Vera's] expectation of privacy was reasonable," Courthouse News notes, which he used as grounds to deny O'Keefe's motion to have the suit dismissed.
"ACORN is in the business of providing counseling and support for the community on various matters," Lorenz wrote in his decision. "By its very nature, the organization handles personal matters with individual clients. Defendants walked into ACORN and asked for plaintiff's help with tax forms. ... Specifically, they solicited his help with setting up an illegal prostitution business with underaged girls. ... Plaintiff, as a worker for an organization like ACORN, reasonably believed that the content of the conversation was sensitive enough that it would remain private."
"Based on the surrounding circumstances, plaintiff reasonably believed that the conversation was private because it was held in his office with no one else present, and he believed that no one else was listening in on his conversation," Lorenz wrote, also noting that the three had "paused their conversation" when other supervisor's entered the room where they were talking.
"Defendant O'Keefe testified that he had previously recorded investigative videos like this without obtaining permission from the person being recorded. He misled plaintiff to believe that the conversation would remain confidential by posing as a client seeking services from ACORN and asking whether their conversation was confidential. Defendants further affirmed the confidential nature of the conversation by asking plaintiff whether the conversation was recorded," Lorenz wrote.
The case is set to begin with pretrial hearings in October.