Defense attorneys have asked a federal judge to throw out more than 200 hours of conversations FBI agents recorded using hidden microphones planted near the steps of a county courthouse in Silicon Valley.
The lawyers are representing defendants accused of engaging in an illicit real estate bid-rigging and fraud conspiracy. The steps to the San Mateo County courthouse are frequently the scene of public auctions for foreclosed homes. Federal prosecutors have admitted that on at least 31 occasions in 2009 and 2010, FBI agents used concealed microphones to record auction participants as they spoke, often in hushed voices with partners, attorneys, and others. Because the federal agents didn’t obtain a court order, the defense attorneys argue the bugging violated Constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
In a court brief filed Friday in the case, attorneys wrote:
It bears repeating that this particular public place was immediately outside a courthouse. Defendants’ expectation that discreet conversations outside a courthouse would remain private is surely one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable. Private affairs are routinely discussed as citizens, their lawyers, and even judges walk to and from court, and lawyers often take clients aside outside the courthouse for privileged conversations. “Common experience” and “everyday expectations” teach that individuals frequently have private conversations near the courthouse despite the public’s access to this location, and expect that such conversations are not subject to the type of dragnet electronic eavesdropping that took place in this case.