Police and Fire Pension Accuses Morning News Reporter of Secretly Recording Meeting

Oh, this is delicious. The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System has filed court papers claiming that Steve Thompson, a Dallas Morning News reporter, surreptitiously left a running recording device in the Pension System’s boardroom and that Thompson caught confidential attorney-client communication on said device. Now the Pension System wants to depose Thompson. But there are so many questions rasied by the summary of the filing. The two biggest are: 1) why does the Pension System think Thompson recorded their private conversation? And 2) why does Robert Witte, the Strasburger & Price attorney representing the Pension System, rely on a crutch word whose meaning he doesn’t understand? To wit from Witte:

“The subject matter of the anticipated litigation arises from Thompson’s action on April 11, 2013 of leaving a digital recording device (which was operating in ‘record’ mode at the time) in petitioner’s Board Meeting Room, even as Thompson purportedly left petitioner’s premises for the day. Thompson’s digital recording device continued to record after petitioner’s Board Meeting concluded, and the recording includes privileged and confidential attorney/client communication between petitioner and its counsel.

“Upon recovering his digital recording device, Thompson purportedly downloaded the recorded content — including those privileged and confidential attorney/client communications that took place with a reasonable expectation of privacy — onto his computer. Thompson has also purportedly destroyed the original recording prior to providing petitioner access to it.”

Update (5:13) — Morning News editor Bob Mong confirmed that Thompson did, indeed, leave his recorder at the Pension System. Mong said it was an accident. When Thompson realized what he’d done, he called the Pension System’s spokeswoman and told her he’d forgotten his recorder. He returned, and she gave it to him. Yes, Mong said, the recorder was left running. I asked him if it did, in fact, catch a conversation of a privileged sort between an attorney and a client. “I don’t want to get into that,” Mong said. “I understand some people have listened to it, but I have not.”

So the only strange “purported” is the first one.


  • Uppercase Matt

    “Purportedly” is probably the appropriate word here, in at least the latter two cases. This isn’t a regular lawsuit petition, where the plaintiff would allege facts that he’s going to prove. This is a 202 petition, where the petitioner is saying “we want to depose this guy to see what happened, because we may have grounds for a suit.” So it’s appropriate to only describe what someone “purportedly” or “allegedly” did, rather than stating that he did them — because the question of what he actually did is the whole point of the deposition.

    The only one that’s not clear to me is the “purportedly left petitioner’s premises.” I don’t know whether Witte’s attempting to say that Thompson did actually (allegedly) leave the premises, or if he’s trying to say that Thompson only pretended to leave the premises.

  • BareFootHixson

    Can we get a video of Zac Crain reading the summary filing a la Michael Shannon reading the sorority email??

  • Attorney

    If the source of the information that Thompson left the premises for the day, later downloaded the recording, and destroyed the original was a statement by Thompson so indicating, wouldn’t his usage be correct? Perhaps he could have stated it more clearly, but his usage would not make me conclude he didn’t understand the meaning of “purportedly.”

  • Neal K

    [*making popcorn*]

  • Tim Rogers

    You are correct, Attorney. If Thompson told them that he destroyed the original, and if they don’t believe him, then “purportedly” works. But I don’t think that’s what Witte (or the junior associate who actually drafted the filing) means. Because why would Thompson say, “Yes, I had a recording, but I destroyed the original and now only have it on my computer”?

    Anyway, I’ve left messages with Witte and Thompson. If I learn more, I’ll let you know.

  • RAB

    Plus, he forgot the comma after the year! (http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com/terribly-right-writing-for-the-web/top-5-comma-errors/)

    Know-nothing junior associate and careless partner signing his name!

  • Avid Reader

    “To wit from Witte.” Big smile.

  • LJT

    Wow, the DMN is taking investigative journalism tips from George Costanza?

  • Tim Rogers

    This has the makings of a great media ethics case study. It seems pretty obvious to me that this is an invasion of privacy — albeit an inadvertent one. If, say, the janitor working at the Pension System came to the DMN and said, “I hid a recorder in the boardroom, and I’ve got a conversation between the Pension System and their lawyer that you need to hear,” then the paper should say, “That’s illegal. Please leave.”

    But that ain’t what happened. Thompson didn’t intentionally invade their privacy. He got back to the office and, presumably, listened to his recording without having any idea what was on there after he left the boardroom. And let’s just presume further that Thompson hears something newsworthy on that tape. What do you do with that information? Do you sit on it because it was obtained illegally — though, again, accidentally? Or do you print it?

    I think it depends on the nature of the private conversation. If, say, the accidental recording is of Pension System chief Richard Tettamant telling his lawyer that the Museum Tower is being funded by sales of cocaine from a joint operation between the Pension System and the Zetas, well then you print that. But if it’s just Tettamant saying he’ll never let Jack Matthews take Museum Tower from him, then I guess you keep that to yourself. Except how does that information NOT color your reporting? Thompson can’t unhear whatever he heard.

  • TheGuy

    I don’t think the juiciness or non-juiciness of the obviously priveleged conversation is the issue. An ethical reporter would have deleted anything transpiring after the moment he left the meeting. That the News owned up to the fact this happened provides them with a great opportunity to admit error on their part and assure its readers that it respects the rule of privacy by refusing to disclose any of the priveleged conversation. Don’t know if this was an honest mistake or bush league reporting, but either way I’d definitely have a talk with that reporter about his career path.

  • Avid Reader

    Was he recording an interview in the boardroom prior to the legal meeting?

  • Tim Rogers

    That is my understanding, yes.

  • Tim Rogers

    So you’re saying the right move is to not listen to the tape, even the part that was recorded during the interview? You just dump the entire audio file into editing software, identify the end of the interview, then slice off and delete everything else without listening to it? Good solution. Impossible to convince the Pension System you did it.