Caught on Tape

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By Rick Johnson

May 3, 2002

Anne Graboski

The Maury Show
Hotel Pennsylvania, Grand Ballroom
15 Penn Plaza
New York, NY 10001

[Via Email and US Mail]

Ms. Graboski:

We are one of the private investigative agencies that received your Email of May 1, 2002, regarding your search for video tape for a show segment entitled, “Caught on Tape.”

You apparently have an appreciation of professional ethical standards akin to the average IQ of the people in your audience… along with any so-called private investigator who is dumb enough to agree to participate.

My first thought was to recognize that you’re just “doing your job,” and to direct my outrage at those who might wittingly or unwittingly reply; but a member of my staff is a former Emmy winning investigative producer with 20 years experience in news before joining my staff. Recognizing that your show supposedly is entertainment, not news, he still raised serious questions about your apparent willingness to participate in such a scheme.

You requested video of cheaters, insurance fraud, con artists, nanny abuse. In many such instances, and in others, video obtained by a responsible private investigator is covered by attorney-client privilege. Even where an attorney is not directly involved in the supervision of an investigator’s assignment, both the law and common sense dictate that holding someone up to public ridicule for the purposes of vicarious public entertainment is both foolish and probably actionable under civil law.

I suppose you might respond, as you noted in your Email, that you wouldn’t air video without obtaining the express permission of those involved, or by technically disguising the appearance and not disclosing the identity of anyone for whom permission is not obtained.

Well, any participant, disguised or otherwise, who hasn’t provided express permission still may be identified by the case, circumstances, surroundings, and other persons who are identified in the video. And, in my professional experience, video obtained in public places often entails incidental coverage of private locations, such as nearby residences, storefronts, etc., and uninvolved individuals, people who may just be passersby. Do you intend to ignore the implications of those circumstances?

Of Course, the investigator will be identified and known. His or her clients will know. I doubt very much that clients or prospective clients of that investigator will be much interested in continuing with someone who might expose them and their personal and/or legal travails to the laughter of your idiot audience.

I’m a former district attorney’s investigator in private practice for 16 years. I know full well that there are elements of my profession that have standards and adhere to practices that define the worst of my profession, but that doesn’t excuse your conduct. Just because it may be legal doesn’t mean that it’s right or even fair.

Many states have legal standards for controlling the conduct of private investigators and for providing sanctions against those who violate those standards. I can only hope that any investigator who appears on your show gets the kind of response from authorities that you apparently haven’t even imagined might exist.

Oh, in case you haven’t figured it out, this means you can take me off your Email list.


Rick Johnson

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