January 11th, 2013

Connecticut Mayor Wants to Prosecute Reporter who Recorded him Negotiating with Union Leaders away from Public Eye 17

By Carlos Miller


Mayor Moccia

Under the impression that he was conducting public business out of earshot from the public, Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia began negotiating to a pair of local labor leaders during a break in a city council meeting, a conversation which should be of high interest to the public.

Especially when it was discovered that a local newspaper reporter had left her tape recorder running during a recess of a city council meeting. According to EAGNews, that does a great job of bitch-slapping Norwalk officials over these charges.

Moccia is outraged that Nancy Chapman, a former reporter for the Norwalk Daily Voice, accidently left her tape recorder running June 26 during a recess of a city Common Council meeting, according to a report from TheHour.com.

The recorder picked up a conversation in the room between the mayor and the presidents of two public labor unions, who seemed to be having “an impromptu negotiation session” regarding school district labor issues. Chapman published a story regarding the conversation, which the mayor considered unethical. But the public has a right to be outraged by Moccia’s reaction to the incident.

He met with the city’s corporate counsel, who in turn filed a criminal complaint against Chapman for “unlawful eavesdropping.” A state police detective subsequently issued a warrant for Chapman’s arrest, which thankfully has not been signed by a prosecutor or judge. Such harassment of a reporter is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press.

It’s also a blatant attempt at government censorship that the courts should reject in a heartbeat if Chapman is eventually arrested. Beyond those obvious legal truths is the troubling thought process of the mayor. How can he believe that he has the right to engage in any sort of conversation in a public place and have his words considered private? What’s even more bizarre is that he was discussing a public matter with two union officials.

Any conversation between the mayor and labor officials regarding the terms of employment for school personnel is very much the public’s business. That would be like President Obama having a conversation with House Speaker John Boehner regarding budget matters within earshot of a White House reporter, and expecting the reporter to ignore it. That’s not going to happen, and it shouldn’t. If Moccia wants to negotiate privately with union officials, he should do so behind closed doors during a designated bargaining session. If he chooses to negotiate in a public place, he is taking the risk that the conversation might indeed become public.

Chapman, the reporter, left a comment in the story that she never wrote anything based on the recording, but she still had that right. Here are the Connecticut laws regarding the wiretapping/eavesdropping issue.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/william.toler.98 William Toler

    Hmmm..it’s a recess…not a closed session…so tough tittie.

    • http://www.facebook.com/william.toler.98 William Toler

      To the mayor, that is.

      • Gordon Freeman

        I always liked that term “tough titty” even after I’d run into one.

      • jay

        she prolly has a tough titty too

  • http://profiles.google.com/1.jim.march Jim March

    Ummm…this one may be tricky IF the reporter wasn’t with the audio recorder but instead left it running while not present. That’s “zero party recording” and…ummm…it’s usually a problem because we get into the issue of “expectation of privacy”.

    Now…if the reporter left the recorder inside, say, the mayor’s office, that would be an open-and-shut legal problem for the reporter – wiretapping statutes would kick in. In this case it’s a gray area if there was no reasonable expectation of privacy because the conversation was going on in a public space. If there were other people in earshot, the “expectation of privacy” would drop significantly.

    Another factor: was this intentional by the reporter or not?

    Upshot: this is a tough one to sort out without more details.

    • steveo

      Connecticut is a one party consent state. She was part of the conversation because she left the recorder on a table close enough for the public officials to see, she was recording in plain view. Public Officials do not have an expectation of privacy in a public place. That’s why they call it public.

      • ExCop-LawStudent

        Yes, but only if she is still present. If she left, then no one who was either a party to the conversation or within earshot could give their consent. The statute states: “means the intentional overhearing or recording of a conversation or discussion, without the consent of at least one party thereto, by a person not present thereat, by means of any instrument, device or equipment.” C.G.S.A. § 53a-187.

        The key part is “by a person not present.” That is classic wiretapping / eavesdropping, and in Connecticut is a Class D felony.

        I don’t think that she would have the requisite intent, although it is not specifically spelled out in the statute, it would normally be either intentionally or knowingly. It is doubtful that the state could argue that this is a strict liability offense.

        Either way, it’s a stupid move by the mayor and the police.

        • http://www.facebook.com/nancy.g.chapman.5 Nancy Guenther Chapman

          Not intentional.

          • ExCop-LawStudent

            I don’t think it was intentional.

  • steveo

    This is already settled law in the 1st Circuit since 1999. See Richard IACOBUCCI v. Butler. The exact same thing happened in Iacobucci in 1999, only he had a video camera. He eventually won about $210K in a lawsuit.

    http://flliberty.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/iacobucci-v-boulter-193-f-3d-14-court-of-appeals-1st-circuit-1999-go.pdf
    This reporter needs to hire Attorney Mario Cerame and shoot a lawsuit right back at ya.

    1st Circuit said this about Iacobucci: “Even if the gathering was not a public meeting at that point, Iacobucci was doing nothing wrong: he was in a public area of a public building; he had a right to be there; he filmed the group from a comfortable remove; and he neither spoke to nor molested them in any way.”
    Another good case, but in the 3rd circuit explains alot of the ins and outs of eavesdropping: BARTNICKI v. VOPPER
    200 F.3d 109 (1999)
    United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit.
    Argued October 5, 1998

    • http://www.facebook.com/nancy.g.chapman.5 Nancy Guenther Chapman

      Thank you.

  • rick

    I like the fact that Steveo and excop lawstudent bring decisions and legal application to our attention. I would almost say a section (separate from the comments) reserved for legal opinion by experienced and trained lawyers might give us all perspective on what might be expected from a prosecutorial and lawsuit standpoint.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=647684635 Carlos Miller

      Those guys are awesome. And I’m working on introducing a new feature that will make it easier for readers to contribute their input and experience.

      I’ll be writing about it soon.

      • ExCop-LawStudent

        @ rick, hey, I appreciate the props, but I’m not a lawyer yet, and I can’t give legal advice. All I do is use my police experience and what I’m learning in school to make general comments about matters of public concern. Nothing I say should be used as a legal basis for taking or failing to take any action, unless you run past an attorney first. If there is a section labelled for “legal opinion” by lawyers, I’ll intentionally pass until I get through the bar. I don’t want to misrepresent my position or status.

        @ Carlos, that sounds like a great idea.

  • Phssthpok

    “>>[Moccia]<>city’s corporate counsel<>state police
    detective<< subsequently issued a warrant for Chapman’s arrest, which
    thankfully has not been signed by a prosecutor or judge. Such harassment
    of a reporter is a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S.
    Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press."

    Three people working together in a deliberate attempt to violate a fourth person's constitutional rights…Sounds like a conspiracy to me.

    18 UCS 241; Conspiracy Against Rights. That's a federal felony, that is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/nancy.g.chapman.5 Nancy Guenther Chapman

      Interesting wrinkle. The mayor has described Mr. Maslan as both the city’s attorney and his personal attorney.

  • Jay

    The way to handle govt thugs is to NOT back down to their bully tactics….and don’t stop there, when you are successful at stopping their initial assault, you then attack them with every legal avenue you have…then they will cower in fear and back down, settle, and move on…Govt is big and bad when they feel they can be but they are usually wrong and if you know the law you can usually defeat and destroy these thugs until govt gets the hint that we the people will NEVER be overtaken by degenerate thugs who couldn’t run a lemonade stand without stacking the deck in their favor. I hope this woman takes them down with every possible way she can…

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