A federal judge has sided with Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in his six-year lawsuit against Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) over an illegally recorded telephone call.
Boehner sued McDermott after a Florida couple, using a scanner, found and recorded a 1996 conference call in which Boehner, then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and other House leaders discussed strategy involving announcement of an ethics committee finding against Gingrich.
The couple gave the tape to McDermott, who was on the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct at the time, and the contents ended up in news reports.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled Friday that McDermott "participated in an illegal transaction when he accepted the tape."
McDermott had acknowledged leaking the taped phone conversation to reporters. But he argued that he did not break the law by receiving the tape and that punishing him for making it public would violate his free-speech rights.
The judge, however, said McDermott had no First Amendment protection because he knew he was receiving a recording that had been illegally obtained.
Hogan ordered a hearing Sept. 16 to discuss whether Boehner should be awarded punitive damages and attorney costs.
A statement from McDermott's office said the congressman disagrees with the ruling. It said he believed important public issues were involved, and that he had a right to release the tape to the media.
Calls to Boehner's office were not returned.
Hogan had dismissed the case in 1998, saying the charges amounted to partisan politics. But a divided appeals court reinstated it the next year. McDermott appealed to the Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appeals court. That court allowed Boehner to amend his lawsuit and argue it again.