March 8, 2013

The remarkable aspect of the $100,000 settlement agreement between guerrilla videographer James O’Keefe and a former ACORN staffer is not that big money is involved. It’s not that it carries an apology from O’Keefe himself. It’s that we can read each and every word of the settlement agreement.

Not that O’Keefe and his people wanted it that way. “They requested confidentiality and we said no,” says Eugene Iredale, attorney for Juan Carlos Vera, the ACORN worker who got caught up in O’Keefe’s sting in the National City, Calif., office of ACORN. It happened in August 2009, when O’Keefe and fellow stinger Hannah Giles recorded Vera “without his consent and in violation of California law,” according to a line in the settlement agreement.

Iredale says that he and his client had three conditions for the settlement: “One, any settlement has to be public. Second, it has to be at least six figures. We didn’t want some claims that it was nuisance, cost of doing business, so it has to be $100,000, not a penny less. The third thing was that it had to include an apology,” says Iredale.

Those conditions didn’t necessarily bring about the desired outcomes, in Iredale’s view. O’Keefe’s lawyer, after all, called the payout a “nuisance settlement.” And of the apology, Iredale quipped, “Like everything O’Keefe does, it’s half-assed and insincere.”

Judge for yourself: “O’Keefe regrets any pain suffered by Mr. Vera or his family,” reads the relevant portion of the settlement.

According to a report by the California attorney general, O’Keefe and Giles approached Vera with this story:

They told Vera that Giles was a prostitute and her pimp was bringing over twelve girls aged 12 to 15 from El Salvador. (San Diego Tr. 4.) Giles claimed she wanted to save the girls from the pimp because he was a “huge guy” and might abuse them. She told Vera the pimp was “a really bad guy” who stole money from her.

Just after the visit by O’Keefe and Giles, Vera called his cousin, a police detective at the National City Police Department, and the matter eventually ended up with the San Diego Police Department. Vera was fired by ACORN upon publication of an edited version of his meeting with O’Keefe, in September 2009.

Michael Madigan, O’Keefe’s attorney, says he never discusses the nitty-gritty of settlement discussions. As to why O’Keefe signed the document, Madigan says, “The only reason there was a settlement was to put the matter behind him and let him focus on the important things he has to do.”

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.