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Newspaper: Jerry Brown spokesman surreptitiously taped calls with reporters

October 30, 2009 | 12:55 pm

A spokesman for California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown has surreptitiously recorded telephone interviews with news reporters, a practice fraught with legal and ethical concerns, according to a San Francisco newspaper.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported the practice after a reporter discovered that Scott Gerber, Brown's spokesman, failed to inform her that he was recording while she interviewed two other people in Brown's office over the telephone.

The Chronicle quoted a ranking lawyer in the office as saying that Gerber had recorded "a few other" conversations with reporters and would halt the practice.

A state law bars telephone recordings without consent of both parties if the conversations are considered confidential, said David Greene, executive director of the Oakland-based First Amendment Project, which provides legal service on free speech issues and free press issues.

Greene said communications between Brown's office and a reporter who is conducting an interview probably would not be considered confidential. At issue is whether one of the parties had a reasonable expectation of privacy, Greene said.

"I don't know if it is illegal," Greene said. "It is unseemly that they would not just inform the reporters they were recording the conversations."

Brown's office said it was preparing a statement on the issue.

The taping was revealed after Chronicle reporter Carla Marinucci sought information about Brown's summary of a ballot measure.

The paper said Gerber called her with a response and told her that two other high-ranking lawyers in the office were on the line to answer her questions.

When Marinucci's story was published on the Chronicle's website, Gerber contacted an editor at the paper to complain about accuracy and e-mailed the editor a transcript of the conversation, the newspaper said.

-- Maura Dolan

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