Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe III, the independent filmmakers behind the series of videos which swept the nation in 2009 and exposed internal corruption and illegality within ACORN Housing Corporation, were sued today in federal court in Philadelphia by an ACORN employee featured in one of the pair’s films.
The plaintiff is Katherine Conway-Russell, a Philadelphia resident who has worked for ACORN since March 2008 as an office director. It was Conway-Russell who met with Giles and O’Keefe, posing as a prostitute and pimp as they had in ACORN offices nationwide during other installments of the undercover video series, for a private interview in her office at ACORN’s facility in Philadelphia on July 24, 2009. This is the first such suit filed against the filmmakers by an individual ACORN employee
The complaint, filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, claims that the Giles and O’Keefe “purportedly sought information regarding housing and mortgage opportunities in Philadelphia, but were in reality imposters who deliberately and surreptitiously created video and audio recordings in an attempt to discredit plaintiff Conway-Russell and ACORN Housing Corporation,” and that they subsequently “disseminated the illegally obtained recordings in a manner calculated to harm and injure” Katherine Conway-Russell.
Conway-Russell alleges that the actions of Giles and O’Keefe ran afoul of Pennsylvania Law and, indeed, in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania all parties to a conversation must be aware of and consent to any recording. According to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5703, it is a felony of the third degree to intentionally intercept, endeavor to intercept, or get any other person to intercept any wire, electronic, or oral communication without the consent of all the parties.
Conway-Russell insists that O’Keefe and Giles violated not only Section 5703, but also Sections 5701 and 5725, sections which set out the “Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act” and provide for a civil cause of action for a person whose oral communications were intercepted, disclosed or used in such a way. Under the latter, anyone whose communication has been intercepted can recover actual damages of $100 per day of violation or $1,000, whichever is greater, and can also seek punitive damages and costs related to the litigation. Conway-Russell is seeking, from both O’Keefe and Giles, compensatory, liquidated and punitive damages, as well as costs related to the suit.
According to the complaint, minutes before Giles and O’Keefe turned up at the door, O’Keefe called to set up an appointment to “discuss election matters,” but the office informed him that “ACORN did not provide advice on running campaigns.” O’Keefe, the complaint states, then asked for advice with regard to a mortgage-related issue, “but given the context of this request, the ACORN representative declined to set up an appointment.”
Once they turned up at the ACORN office, Conway-Russell says, they were ushered into her office under the “pretext that they were there for housing and mortgage advice.” The complaint goes on from there:
Unknown to plaintiff Conway-Russell, defendants O’Keefe and Giles had no interest in mortgage our housing issues; rather, they were there to attempt to entrap ACORN Housing employees into engaging in inappropriate counseling. In furtherance of this goal, defendants O’Keefe and Giles secretly recorded by hidden camera and microphone the entire conversation they had with plaintiff.
Plaintiff Conway-Russell, in accord with her responsibilities as an ACORN Housing counselor, properly advised the defendants that she could only provide information regarding mortgage possibilities and could not assist them in any other matters.
Could not assist them in any other matters? Judge for yourself in the video below by Giles and O’Keefe. Note that some of the audio is muted because of another lawsuit, this one filed in September 2009 by ACORN itself against not only the filmmakers, but also against Andrew Breitbart, whose BigGovernment.com site was integral in the dissemination of the videos.
Through the months of July and August in 2009, Giles and O’Keefe took undercover video footage in Baltimore, Washington D.C., Brooklyn, San Bernardino, San Diego, and Philadelphia. The first tapes were released on BigGovernment.com on September 10th and additional videos were released throughout that week until a total of five had been released, all by September 17th. Each of the videos showed ACORN employees eager to help facilitate tax evasion, human smuggling and child prostitution.
Although the mainstream press tried to ignore the story at first–former ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson was famously oblivious to it, and it took more than a week for the networks and newspapers to address it at all–the strategically staggered release schedule created by Breitbart created a story too large to be ignored. Soon, ACORN had been exiled from the 2010 Census project, excluded from a volunteer tax-assistance program, and was forced to sit idly by and watch as legislation was rushed through the House and Senate to cut all future federal funding destined for the organization.
After initially denying all charges only to look foolish upon the release of additional video footage, ACORN finally went after Giles and O’Keefe personally and took to the courts on September 23, 2009, when the Baltimore ACORN office filed the aforementioned suit against the pair in Maryland, along with Breitbart and Fox News Channel. In a separate legal action, the group managed to get the House and Senate bills overturned as unconstitutional, thus reinstating their eligibility for federal funds.
Katherine Conway-Russell v. James E. O’Keefe III, Hannah Giles, 2:10cv00276, was filed on Thursday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Conway-Russell is represented by David Rudovsky of Kairys, Rudovsky, Messing & Feinberg LLP.
For a PDF copy of the complaint, click HERE.
For more information about Conway-Russell v. O’Keefe here at America’s Right, including how the case got to where it is now, and what might happen in the near future, click HERE.
Jeff Schreiber and Robert Wallace, editors at America’s Right, contributed to this report.