U.S. Appeals Court Rules for Boehner Over McDermott

Posted May 1, 2007 at 11:10am

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today upheld a decision awarding substantial damages to House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the long-running case regarding a taped cell phone conversation disclosed to the media by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.).

If McDermott appeals the case, the next step would be the Supreme Court. But it was unclear whether that would happen as of midday Tuesday.

Since 1998, Boehner and McDermott have been fighting in the courts over whether the Democrat unlawfully obtained an illegally intercepted phone call between Boehner and other House GOP leaders in late 1996, and then illegally disclosed it.

On Tuesday morning, a nine-judge panel ruled that McDermott did not have a First Amendment right to disclose the taped conversation involving a House ethics committee investigation into then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). The court essentially put aside the question of whether the tape was lawfully obtained.

The court decided that McDermott, who was ranking member on the ethics committee at the time, was covered by a duty of confidentiality under House rules. An ethics subcommittee condemned McDermott’s handling of the tape, which was turned over to him by Florida couple Alice and John Martin on Jan. 8, 1997.

“We agree with and accept the ethics committee’s interpretation of the rules as applied to this case,” the court wrote. “When Representative McDermott became a member of the ethics committee, he voluntarily accepted a duty of confidentiality that covered his receipt and handling of the Martins’ illegal recording.

“He therefore had no First Amendment right to disclose the tape to the media.”