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TMZ's Harvey Levin: Sheriff's use of his phone records in Mel Gibson case 'disgusting' [Updated]

October 20, 2009 |  7:17 am

Harveylevin Harvey Levin, the founder of TMZ, expressed outrage over revelations in The Times earlier this month that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department had obtained his telephone records as part of an investigation involving the leak of information about Mel Gibson's arrest.

"It breaks federal law, it breaks state law," Levin told an audience at the Radio & Television News Assn. of Southern California. "This is like 'Chinatown.' It's disgusting they would do something like this. How do you protect sources? It goes to the core of freedom of the press."

"We've met with lawyers and are charting our course of action," he added. "This is not going to go away."

Media law experts and journalism groups expressed outrage that sheriff's deputies had obtained Levin's phone records during a leak investigation.

Several said they believed that sheriff's investigators violated state and federal law when they obtained a search warrant for Levin's records as they tried to identify who gave him details about Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic tirade during a 2006 drunk-driving arrest.

"That's illegal," said Lucy Dalglish, an attorney and executive director of the Virginia-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. "Most law enforcement agencies know it's illegal ...  or have a hard time getting a judge signing off on it."

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said at the time his department consulted a prosecutor before seeking the search warrant. He noted that a judge approved the warrant.

Sheriff's officials initially played down the July 28, 2006, arrest of Gibson, but later that day TMZ posted a story about the actor's behavior.

The report detailed profane outbursts by Gibson, an attempt to escape custody and repeated threats against the arresting deputy.

The website also accused sheriff's officials of trying to conceal the actor's conduct from the public.

The news sparked outrage at the actor as well as fierce criticism of the Sheriff's Department, which was accused of giving him special treatment.

[Updated at 7:32 p.m.: Responding to Levin's statements, Whitmore told The Times that he believes the department acted properly. “We believe the 1st Amendment is vital to keeping this country free,” he said.

Levin declined to comment to The Times. But during an interview on KCRW, Levin said he spoke to representatives of both the Sheriff’s Department and district attorney's office and that “each kind of said the other was responsible.” Levin's speech before the news group was first reported last night by L.A. Observed.]

-- Shelby Grad

Photo: TMZ executive producers Harvey Levin, right, and Jim Paratore in 2007. Credit: Craig Mathews Warner Bros. / Associated Press

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