By Sara Kugler
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
NEW YORK, July 3 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief strategist is being accused of illegal eavesdropping in a lawsuit that alleges he and his polling firm monitored the personal e-mails of a former associate who started a rival company.
Mitchell E. Markel, a former vice president at Penn, Schoen & Berland, claims in the lawsuit that the firm began monitoring all messages sent from his personal BlackBerry device nearly a month after he had resigned and become president of his new business. The suit claims that Mark Penn, who is Clinton's chief strategist and pollster, knew about and approved of the monitoring, which the suit says violates federal wiretapping laws.
Penn, Schoen & Berland, which has helped elect clients such as former president Bill Clinton and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is accused of hacking into Markel's BlackBerry and rigging his e-mail accounts to send copies of his e-mail to another account that the firm had set up. The suit says the BlackBerry that Markel used was always his own, never the property of his former employer.
Howard Rubin, an attorney for Penn, Schoen & Berland, disputed the claim that the e-mails were private and that the firm engaged in unauthorized monitoring.
"The company hasn't done anything improper, and the e-mails came in on our own e-mail account," he said. He declined to elaborate.
The lawsuit was filed Friday in State Supreme Court in Manhattan.
A week earlier, the firm had filed its own lawsuit against Markel and another former partner, Michael J. Berland, accusing them of breach of contract because Markel's new company was soliciting Penn, Schoen & Berland clients with Berland's help.
Markel, Berland and other employees of Penn, Schoen & Berland signed agreements that prohibited them from competing with the firm or soliciting and serving its clients for a certain period of time if they were to leave the company, according to that suit.
Berland left Penn, Schoen & Berland in December. Markel left this year to run the new company, Global Insights & Strategies.
Markel learned his e-mail was being monitored from the first lawsuit because the suit quotes e-mails between him, Markel and others that show conversations they were having about doing business with clients of their former firm.