Contrition Through Aggression: ACORN Sues Filmmakers While Claiming Regret Over Misconduct of its Employees

logoAs we discussed earlier, ACORN has decided to move forward with a lawsuit against the independent filmmakers who showed its employees engaged in potentially unlawful conduct. While insisting that it is terribly sorry for the actions of its employees, ACORN is pursuing the people who forced the misconduct into the open: filmmakers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles. It is curious method of contrition but ACORN is seeking massive damages for nonconsensual surveillance.

ACORN is itself under criminal investigation in New York and experiencing a cascading impact by agencies and organizations severing ties with the organization. There is also a bill in Congress to prohibit contracts by the government with ACORN, though that bill raises serious constitutional questions.

The lawsuit, filed in Baltimore, also names, which is run by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart and posted the videos. Breitbart released five similar videos that O’Keefe and Giles recorded in ACORN offices in Washington, D.C.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; San Bernadino, Calif., and San Diego, as well as the Baltimore office.

ACORN has fired the two employees shown in the recent undercover video by filmmaker James O’Keefe of Veritas Visuals— showing the staffers advising a faux pimp and prostitute (here) on how to get federal assistance and lie on federal forms. Now, however, it is threatening legal action in what would be part of a trend of cases involving companies and organizations suing investigative reporters and filmmakers.

In this video, Four ACORN workers appear involved in potential criminal conduct:

ACORN chief organizer Bertha Lewis immediately went on the offensive and threatened legal action:

“It is clear that the videos are doctored, edited, and in no way the result of the fabricated story being portrayed by conservative activist ‘filmmaker’ O’Keefe and his partner in crime. And, in fact, a crime it was — our lawyers believe a felony — and we will be taking legal action against Fox and their co-conspirators.”

In bringing the lawsuit, ACORN joins a rather ignoble group of businesses seeking to sue journalists and filmmakers for uncovering improper conduct:

In Food Lion v. ABC , a store was shown in an undercover segment engaging in unsanitary techniques and accused Food Lion of selling rat-gnawed cheese, meat that was past its expiration date and old fish and ham that had been washed in bleach to kill the smell. Food lion denied the allegations and sued ABC for trespass. A jury ruled against ABC and awarded Food Lion punitive damages for the investigation involving ABC journalists lying on their application forms and assumed positions under false pretenses. (here). The Fourth Circuit however wiped out the punitive damage award while upholding the verdicts of trespass and breach of loyalty with awards of only $1 for each.

This case would come closest to a case out of the Seventh Circuit. Judge Richard Posner wrote the decision in Desnick v. ABCwhere investigative reporters went undercover in 1993 to show that employees of the Desnick eye clinic had tampered with the clinic’s auto-refractor, the machine used to detect cataracts so that the machine produced false diagnoses to find cataracts (and require procedures). The court rejected wiretapping claims (based on the state’s one-party consent rules) as well as trespass and defamation claims. On trespass, the court noted that the reporters were allowed into areas open to new patients. Posner relied on the consent to the entry to negate the trespass claim even when the entrant “has intentions that if known to the owner of the property would cause him . . . to revoke his consent.”

That seems quite close to the ACORN case. However, Maryland does require the consent of all parties, which is a difference with the Illinois case. They are focusing on the nonconsensual surveillance aspect. Maryland’s Courts and Judicial Proceedings Code §§ 10-402(a) and 10-410, requires two party consent to all electronic surveillance. It allows for both criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits.

ACORN attorney Arthur Schwartz insists that the videos were “clear violations of Maryland law that were intended to inflict maximum damage to the reputation of ACORN, the nation’s largest grassroots organizer of low-income and minority Americans.” Well, it didn’t seem to take much to produce this self-inflicted wound. Moreover, ACORN’s tactics have been controversial for years and the organization has been the subject of continual allegations of improper and potential criminal conduct.

For her part, while trying to destroy the filmmakers who disclosed the misconduct, Lewis insists “[w]e were just as shocked and horrified as the American public was. I will not tolerate such behavior. It is incumbent upon me and my board to set things straight.”

The decision of ACORN to aggressively pursue the filmmakers is, in my view, a mistake and evidence of continued poor judgment by the organization’s leadership. These filmmakers may be properly prosecuted under state law and such charges are being contemplated, here. However, ACORN should confine its role to that of a witness and focus on cleaning up its tarnished organization.

For the full story, click here and here.

104 thoughts on “Contrition Through Aggression: ACORN Sues Filmmakers While Claiming Regret Over Misconduct of its Employees”

  1. “When we think about the power of words, we often focus on the power of words to hurt. I doubt there is anyone here today who doesn’t remember some hurtful words, perhaps a childhood taunt, ( I know still remember) or some ill considered words from a parent, lover or close friend, whose sting was as painful as any slap or jab. We probably also remember words that we said, or, today equally likely, typed or texted, that we wish could have been recalled. How many of the sleepless nights in our lives have been caused by the words we used. How stupid we felt when we realized the pain and trouble we had caused, often without even considering what we were doing at the time.”

    Buddha, Billy, other regulars and to Myself,

    This came from a Rabbi’s Rosh Hashonnah sermon that my wife sent me after it had gone viral on Twitter. I think it is apt for all of us here and I certainly have often forgotten this message writing here. The link to the entire sermon is included and is not really particularly religious, but the ethic presented is an expression of why I still consider myself religiously Jewish, although deist.

    It is of course a comment on your interplay above, but I must say it gave me much pause to think about myself and my behavior.

  2. With regard to the original post, although I am not a lawyer, it occurs to me that if ACORN believes that there is exculpatory evidence on the complete tapes, but the makers will only release edited tapes, then perhaps ACORN sees discovery as the only way to get the full story and clear its name.

    I know it seems impossible to justify this, but we already know that one taped ACORN employee saw through the ruse and made up outrageous things such as that she had murdered her husband, and we know another employee humored them in the office, then contacted law enforcement despite suspecting a hoax. I have seen the photos of the pranksters and heard them on the tape and it seems incredible to me that anyone believed they were who they claimed to be.

  3. billy,

    You are clearly delusional. Therefore, you must be Wayne. Plus, you can’t resist the faux pirate talk. It’s a tell, matey. Don’t go to Vegas. So you think whatever you like because you cannot defeat a foe you were not in combat with no matter how hard you try. It’s called “impossible”. It’s like kicking the neighbors dog then rushing into the local Red Lobster and declaring victory over Spain. Sure, it may be flashy and make YOU feel good, but what have you really accomplished? What are the rest of those poor people thinking as they stare at you from over their shrimp scampi that’s steadily growing cold as you pronounce your victory over the forces of Queen Isabella?

    I’m pretty sure it’s not the same thing you’d be thinking.

  4. I wouldn’t have had to get “righteous” with you senor, but you don’t like to play by the rules. When you don’t I will make it a point to “rap” you across the knuckles, like the good little “green goblin” you are. You savvy?

  5. billy,

    You are one misguided individual.

    I’m not the one you just lost an argument with, so I’m not really sure where the personal hostility comes from.

    Unless your that other blindly and ineptly defending RCC guy who has a fixation on the DSM and trying to piss me off. Which I have already considered.

    So I’ll make this simple, billy. You lost to others. Take it up with them. It was them who sank your battleship, sport.

    If you just want to act like a jackass, I’m content to let you do that too. I’m not in this argument despite your attempts to make me so. I have nothing invested in this conversation other than the derived entertainment value, which leaves me with a net gain.

    Carry on.

  6. I’m heading up to my cabin in Big Bear tomorrow buddha, after the Michigan game. To bad you can’t join me and my girlfriend in my new Land Rover. I would love to perch you in by back seat so I could use you as my “verbal punching bag” on the way up the mountain. For your pain and suffering I would take you to “In and Out Burger” and maybe give you a ride to the greyhound bus station, after I’m through turning you into my own personal “hand puppet”.

  7. billy:

    I came in here all full of piss and vinegar and got my ass kicked. I have since learned quite a bit from Buddha, Mike S, Mike A, Gyges, Mespo, Jill, BobEsq and others. They are all, as you have acknowledged, very smart people and as lawyers they know how to advocate.

    You seem like a very sharp guy yourself, but you are still in the minors compared to these people.

    Just sit back and learn from them how to present an argument. I am engineer and was not used to the written word, it has been very valuable to interact here. I hope you also find it a beneficial experience.

  8. I’m a stipulated observer on this go around. As I said earlier, I’ve had this conversation. I know how it will end. If billy wants to drag me in so even more arguments go against him, that’s just too bad. He’s in capable hands to acquire that experience already. I’m taking a mulligan and having a hoot watching billy flail. Nothing more, nothing less. That he’s getting upset about it would be filed under “His Problem”. I’m not his lifeline. He can crawl out of this hole on his own or not. That’s the sport in the thing.

  9. Carlyle:

    that was an interesting article. Sounds like a typical small business getting started. Their board of directors did not do shit for them. They would have been better off with some small business owners that were successful and had gone through all the growing pains.

    That reporter was a real piece of sh!+. But was he a racist or just a prick, it sounds like they had made some enemies and someone “tipped” him off about the possibility of a story and the press is so unethical he just ran with it, probably shouting across the office “I smell a Pulitzer”. I doubt it was about race, it was about the reporters ego. He was also probably a bully and would have not gone after them if they were a larger charity.

    Hopefully he will pay at some point in his career, maybe someone will accuse him of child molestation. A person that would do what he did is probably capable of anything.

  10. Billy,

    Don’t make me squash you like a bug simply because the others are having their way with your weak arguments. Trying to goad me in no way helps you. Indeed, it is historically a very bad mistake. And you flip flop. You goad, you apologize, you goad. Nothing makes you look like you’re about to panic more than flailing about.

    Carry on.

  11. Nobody likes to admit they are a “racist”, anymore than they like to admit they are a “bigot”. Its’ not a likeable word, its’ not a likeable thing.

  12. TmaxPA, Billy.

    Here is an interesting article in the Texas Observer about a black operated charity successfully destroyed by racially motivated and false allegations of corruption.

    It is a general rule that racists do not know that they are racist, they believe that they are people following simple common sense in dealing with people who on objective criteria such as rate of drug convictions are racially inferior.

    The problem that the Nazis had is that they went a long way in exterminating as racially inferior a race that is not actually racially inferior as the Palestinians can attest.

  13. Mespo (to billy?):

    “Wonderful job of avoiding the central premise that Christian faith is simply a set of First Century delusions practiced by those who fear just about everything. The dirt you seeing flying isn’t from my argument’s “hole” but is,in fact, covering your assertion that because one man was pious and accomplished, that the piety must be true. That’s not undistributed middle; that’s a non-sequitur coupled with a pretty lame appeal to authority. That, as you say, is “logic.””

    Exactly who are you addressing here Mespo? I’m the one who commented on the undistributed middle. I’m the one who constrained you to assert your (hidden) premise that ‘all Christians are delusional.’

    You do know of course, as an agnostic/Jungian/Kantian, I must inform you that in order to carry your ‘delusional Christians’ premise any further you’ll have to contradict a few portions ‘The Critique of Pure Reason.’ And while I do consider you to be an extremely intelligent man, well, how shall I say… “I know Immanuel Kant, and you sir are no Immanuel Kant.”

    Fallacious? Perhaps. But true? “”Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.” (some Russian guy)

    BTW, about that “Jung was nothing if not lazy” crack … care to back that up with so much as a syllogism?

    Of course, if you ever happen to pick up “Memories Dreams & Reflections” by Jung, you’d be surprised to find out that Jung was far more skeptical of organized religion than you. I’m pretty sure it started in his childhood when he asked his father, a learned minister, what the ‘Trinity’ was and his father couldn’t tell him.

    Come to think of it, it must be far easier to dismiss Jung as lazy in lieu of exercising that brain of yours to comprehend that which you so easily dismiss.

    Lazy. Uh huh.

  14. Coincidentally buddha, I will redirect myself accordingly. If I feel like getting “snippy” though, I will..

  15. Gyges, that is the most profound post I have read to date. You said what I was obviously unable to articulate. Thankyou..

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