By Matthew Renda, Courthouse News Service
SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — A federal judge has ruled the practice of placing recording devices at the courthouse steps in two California counties is “unsettling” but does not run afoul of constitutional guarantees against warrantless searches.
In a 17-page ruling (pdf) issued July 22, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton acknowledged the practice of placing recording devices on the courthouse steps in Oakland and Martinez to capture the conversations of four defendants in a federal criminal fraud case was “unsettling,” but said the four did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they engaged in discussions about the alleged fraud next to the FBI‘s microphones.
“While the court agrees with defendants that it is at the very least unsettling that the government would plant listening devices on the courthouse steps given the personal nature of many of the conversations in which people exiting the courthouse might be engaged, it is equally unrealistic for anyone to believe that open public behavior including conversations can be private given that there are video cameras on many street corners, storefronts and front porches, and in the hand of nearly every person who owns a smartphone,” Hamilton wrote in her ruling.
The ruling is part of an ongoing case involving the four men, who stand accused of rigging bids to obtain hundreds of properties throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.
According to a federal indictment filed by the Justice Department in 2014, Michael Marr, Gregory Casorso, Javier Sanchez and Victor Marr conspired to restrain competition by agreeing not to compete with one another during auctions for foreclosed properties and then splitting the proceeds or taking place in private secondary auctions known as “rounds.”
As part of the case, the FBI placed recording devices in a …