As I wrote in my initial post, I teach a class at the Learning Exchange (LEX) entitled, “Find Anything on Anyone.” Yeah, the title was created by the LEX, so its a little too broad. As a result, I added the subtitle “Without Getting Sued or Going to Jail.” Lest anyone should think that I put that in for the sake of humor alone, I awoke today to learn of two cases that highlight the point.
I heard about the first case as I awoke to Morning Edition on National Public Radio. If you recall from my post about what I do as an investigator, I said that although its great to dig up the information or evidence that your client would most love to get, that doesn’t always happen. My job isn’t to manufacture evidence, just collect it. Apparently and attorney and his investigators in Florida forget that important truth. (http://www.npr.org/2012/08/17/158826992/when-the-lawyer-becomes-the-object-of-prosecution)
The NPR piece doesn’t say if the mother-daughter PI team was convicted, but the attorney in the case faces a prison sentence of up to ten years. Instead of clearing the mines, they planted some and then stepped right on the very ones they planted.
The other case is closer to home. A PI here in Northern California was arrested for fraudulently obtaining police reports. Normally, policy reports do not fall into the realm of public records but according to Government Code Section 6254 (f), they are available in a redacted form to:
“victims of an incident, or authorized representative thereof, an insurance carrier against which a claim has been or might be made, and any person suffering bodily injury or property damage or loss, as the result of the incident caused by arson, burglary, fire, explosion, larceny, carjacking, vehicle theft, or a crime as defined by subdivision (b) of Section 13951…”
There are a number of limitations to this rule and the full text can be found at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=gov&group=06001-07000&file=6250-6270.
The PI in this case was hired by the former wife in a family law dispute. He may or may not have been working under the direction of the former wife’s attorney. This is important because much of the evidence in the case may be protected by the work product privilege and not be discoverable. This is why I always want to work at the direction of attorney.
The PI, who is also a former parole agent/officer, hung his old credentials around is neck and showed up at police departments seeking the files related to a woman living with the ex-husband in the case. He allegedly represented himself as a currently active Parole Agent (and not for the purpose of entertaining at a bachelorette party) and thereby gained access to files in up to four counties. In none of the cases did his action fall within the limitations of Government Code 6254 (f) and therefore is has been arrested and is being represented by Mark Reichel of the Law Office of Reichel & Plesser. (You can learn more about this firm at http://www.reichelplesser.com/)
Regardless of whether or not the PI in question misrepresented himself and in so doing opened himself, his client and her attorney to criminal prosecution and civil litigation, the amazing part is that he didn’t even have to go through the effort of getting police files. By simply finding out where the subject of his investigation lived over the last 10 – 15 years he could have checked the criminal court files in each county. Those files are within the realm of public records (except portions that are sealed by the court). Had he done that, he would be off the hook and so would his client and her attorney. (For more on this case you can check the Sacramento Bee at http://blogs.sacbee.com/crime/archives/2012/08/private-investigator-accused-of-posing-as-parole-agent.html#storylink=misearch.)
If he took my class, he would have learned that in the first hour and no one would be going to jail or getting sued.