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Emanuel: Flap over secret recording of reporter ‘much ado about nothing’

Chicago Tribune building | Sun-Times files

Chicago Tribune building | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 14, 2012 6:17AM

City of Chicago officials secretly recorded a news reporter without consent in an apparent violation of state law, City Hall has acknowledged.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel says the “mistake” reminds him of William Shakespeare.

“Much Ado About Nothing,” Emanuel said.

The Mayor was responding to revelations that city officials in September twice recorded conversations with a Chicago Tribune reporter, without first seeking the reporter’s consent. Under Illinois’ controversial eavesdropping law, it’s a felony for anyone to make an audio recording of a conversation without the consent of all parties.

Speaking Monday, Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew said the city had learned of two such “mistakes” involving Tribune reporter David Kidwell. But the city is “not aware of” any other recordings made of any other reporters without consent, including those employed by the Chicago Sun-Times, Drew said. He added that though it is normal for both the city and reporters to record conversations to ensure that officials are accurately quoted, the “city’s policy is to ask for consent.”

He disputed an allegation made last week in a federal court filing that a third conversation — a conference call last year between Tribune reporters, Police Supt. Garry McCarthy and other officials — was taped without consent by Emanuel’s spokeswoman Sarah Hamilton.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, which has in unrelated cases used the eavesdropping law to prosecute citizens who recorded the police without consent, did not return calls seeking comment Monday.

But the latest allegations brought fresh criticism of one of the nation’s harshest eavesdropping laws. While most states require the consent of only one party to make a legal recording, Illinois is one of just a handful that requires the consent of everyone involved.

The same law even makes it a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison to record police officers in the street without permission — a 50-year-old rule which remains on the books though it has come under fire in the last year from the American Civil Liberties Union, McCarthy, state legislators, jurors and state and federal judges.

Springfield lawmakers are waiting for a pending federal appeals court ruling before they take another run at it, according to state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D- Northbrook), who sponsored a failed bid to bring Illinois in line with the rest of the nation earlier this year.

For his part, Emanuel said Monday that he expects his staff to keep a record of his news conferences and interviews, adding that he has larger priorities than making sure that record exists.

“If the staff has made a mistake on one or two instances, they’ll address the mistake,” Emanuel said.

But lawyer Robert Johnson, who filed a lawsuit on behalf of a woman who was acquitted of recording a conversation with Chicago police, said it was “shocking” that city officials were doing something that’s “still against the law.”

His client was “facing 15 years for recording public officials in the course of their duties,” he said. “But this is a lot more serious — it’s taping private individuals. Why aren’t they being fired and prosecuted?”

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