Former Philly anchorman Larry Mendte, representing himself in court today, told Judge Frederica Massiah-Jackson that he had helped his old colleague Alycia Lane land a new broadcasting gig at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles.
Lane got fired in 2008 from her old job as co-anchor with Mendte at CBS in Philadelphia, after she was accused of punching a New York City police officer, a charge that was eventually dropped.
Later that same year, the FBI arrested Mendte for repeatedly using a "KeyCatcher" device to hack into Lane's personal and work computers allegedly more than 7,000 times in two years. After his arrest and guilty plea, Mendte told the judge, "public sentiment about Alycia Lane changed dramatically." Instead of being viewed as an alleged cop assailant, Lane was seen as a "victim," Mendte said. That's why she got hired in 2009 as a TV anchor in Los Angeles, Mendte told the judge.
Larry Mendte's new career as a lawyer was off to a good start. The judge couldn't contain her laughter. "That's good," she said.
There was arguments about Mendte's role in leaking stories to the news media about Lane getting chummy with Prince Albert of Monaco aboard his yacht; and Lane sending pictures of herself in a bikini to ESPN reporter Rich Eisen, photos that were intercepted by Eisen's wife, Suzy Shuster.
Meanwhile, Judge Massiah-Jackson, who took over the case on April 12, was doing her best to referee a long-standing grudge match between lawyers who've been scrapping for years. Lane is represented by Paul R. Rosen and Andrew DeFalco; CBS is represented by John M. Elliott and Mark J. Schwemler. Mendte, of course, is representing himself.
"It's not my fault that this case has been going on for 10 years," the judge told the lawyers at both tables. "I just got here a few weeks ago."
But the rivalry between the two former co-anchors is no longer front-page news, as was evidenced by the lack of reporters in the courtroom.
Mendte is now a 59-year-old grandfather who works as a radio talk show host in New York City and the public affairs director at Me-TV in Delaware. Meanwhile, the 44-year-old Lane, who has apparently retired, is "living the good life in Hollywood Hills," where she's expecting her second child, Mendte told the judge.
The judge pointed out that Mendte had a nice home too on Gulph Mills Road.
I bought that house a long time ago, Mendte said, adding that he couldn't afford it today.
In the wake of the computer hacking scandal, Mendte was fired from CBS. He pleaded guilty to one felony count of violating the federal wiretap statute, and served six months of home confinement.
In papers filed in court on May 3rd, Mendte, representing himself, amplified his argument that his demise led to the rehabilitation of Lane.
"After the NYC arrest & incident, Lane and her team went after me and were able to use my case to rehabilitate Lane's public image," Mendte wrote. "Lane then landed a job as a weekday anchor at WNBC in Los Angeles, America's second largest TV market [a much larger TV market than Philadelphia.]"
When the civil case was originally filed back in 2008, Lane's lawyers alleged defamation against CBS, as well as portraying Lane in a false light, among a total of 18 charges. But 17 of those charges got tossed by judges in the case, and Lane is now down to a single charge of negligent supervision against CBS, for failing to figure out in a more timely fashion that Mendte was hacking into her computer.
Lane, however, accuses Mendte, of six different charges, including unlawful interception of communications, "intrusion into seclusion," invading her privacy, and tortious interference with prospective contractual relations. The last charge was filed by Lane's lawyers because Mendte allegedly interfered with Lane's plea bargain negotiations in New York by writing to the D.A.
Today's hearing was supposed to be an argument over whether an expert witness on Lane's behalf would be allowed to testify about computer technology at CBS, and whether the network did a sufficient job of investigating Lane's complaints about being hacked. The hearing was ordered by Judge Mark Bernstein, whom Judge Massiah-Jackson identified as the "team leader" among Common Court Pleas judges.
Before the change in judges, CBS's lawyers seemed hopeful of knocking the last charge out of the case by disqualifying the plaintiff's expert as a witness. But Judge Massiah-Jackson delayed any hearing on that expert witness, who showed up in the courtroom today, until the trial. That seemed to dash CBS's hopes for a quick knockout; it looks like the trial is on for October.
Judge Massiah-Jackson told the lawyers that if Lane's case was narrowed down any further, there would be nothing left to it.
The expert witness in question is Kevin Brennan. On Jan. 3, 2011, Brennan, deputy director of L3 Communications of Horsham, wrote that a review of the case "confirms that CBS management was aware of Ms. Lane's complaints" about being repeatedly hacked.
"Over the course of two years, Ms. Lane requested on multiple occasions that an investigation be conducted into determining the source of unauthorized access into her email communications, yet CBS produced little or no electronic records," Brennan wrote. "A thorough investigation into this matter would have detected unauthorized access to Ms. Lane's email accounts as early as 2006," Brennan wrote.
In response, CBS's lawyers argued on May 6, 2011 that Brennan's opinions "seek to usurp the role of the Court and jury by improperly offering the legal conclusion that CBS ignored its 'duty to its employee.'" The defense lawyers argued that Brennan's conclusions were "speculative and unreliable" and that his report "does not even identify what industry standards apply in such a context."
In documents filed on the court docket, Mendte described how he went about committing his crimes. In his deposition on Jan. 27, 2011, Mendte testified that after he hacked into Lane's computer, "I emailed the photographs to myself and then erased, in the file, the send."
He presumably was talking about the emails regarding the bikini pictures that Lane sent to Eisen, a story that wound up in the New York Post. According to Mendte's deposition, after he got the emails, he went to the Union League and sent them off to Page 6 of the Post.
In court files, Lane's reaction to her public embarrassment was described in contemporaneous emails. "I was crying my eyes out," Lane wrote to a friend on Oct. 31, 2007. "I got so royally screwed."
"Suzy is supposedly a total psycho," Lane wrote about Eisen's wife. "And Rich is a total wimp who let me get slaughtered to save his own ass."
"Meanwhile, people are high-fiving him," Lane wrote about Eisen, "and calling me a home wrecking whore. Little do they know I puke at the thought of trying to 'entice' him. Yikes. Gross."
Eisen, she said, was "funny, smart, but [there was] no physical chemistry EVER. I never wanted to say that because it sounds so bitchy," she wrote, "but he simply is not attractive to me . . . AT ALL. What a complete wuss he was/is not to just set the record straight!"
Her friend, however, was not sympathetic to Lane's plight.
"You were emailing a married man," the friend wrote back. "Forget the bikini photos. You were carrying on a friendship with a married man without befriending his wife. And for that, you crossed a line."
"You were wrong Alycia. You did something wrong," the friend wrote. "You need to accept that. THIS is NOT about bikini shots. It is about YOU crossing a line in someone else's marriage."
The friend concluded, "I love you girl," and, "I know you're not a bad person or a home wrecker."
In court today, Lane's lawyers told the judge they were seeking $15 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages. But CBS's lawyers countered that those damage figures were based on a faulty assumption -- that Lane would go on collecting her CBS salary of some $700,000 to $800,000 a year for 20 years. Her annual salary in Los Angeles was considerably less, the lawyers said, about $250,000.
In response, Judge Massiah-Jackson asked if the defense had an expert ready to testify that broadcast careers are short, sometimes over by age 35. Schwemler replied that they didn't have such an expert. The judge told Schwemler in order to be fully prepared for trial, maybe he should consider retaining one.
There was more legal skirmishing today over motions to separate CBS and Mendte as defendants. Trying the two defendants together hamstrings CBS because Mendte has already pleaded guilty, Schwemler said. All Lane's lawyers were trying to do was use Mendte to taint CBS, the defendant with the "deep pockets," Schwemler said.
Rosen countered that all of the harmful actions that CBS is on trial for were caused by Mendte, but were enabled by CBS's negligent supervision of the computer-hacking anchorman. The behaviors of the two defendants are hopelessly intertwined, Rosen argued. And it would be a hardship to have Lane go through two trials concerning the same crimes.
CBS's lawyers argued that it took the FBI to nab Mendte and figure out he was using the KeyCatcher. CBS, Schwemler said, was under no legal obligation to conduct a forensic investigation of the network's computers, something the lawyer said was worthy of the FBI or CIA.
CBS's lawyers told the judge they would seek permission to depose officials at KNBC-TV in Los Angeles to find out why Lane was fired in 2013.
Rosen, Lane's lawyer, countered that discovery in the case was over five years ago. The lawyers also sparred over whether the incident between Lane and the New York City police woman she allegedly called a "fucking dyke" would be described to the jury.
The judge cautioned that she didn't see any way to keep the New York City incident completely out of the case.
The lawyers weren't the only ones fighting today in court. Mendte also got in his licks.
At one point, Mendte asked the judge if he hadn't already confessed to enough sins in the case, and then he stated that he didn't appreciate Lane's lawyers making up any new lies about him.
Contrary to what Lane's lawyers were saying, Mendte told the judge, he never named any names when he and Lane were talking about who might be leaking her private emails to the tabloids. This was before Mendte's confession in the case.
When he and Lane did talk, Mendte said, it was Lane who suggested several possible culprits. That's why she emailed Prince Albert, Mendte said. Because Lane suspected the prince might have leaked those photos to the New York Daily News, photos that showed the prince holding hands and dancing with the Philadelphia anchor gal on the prince's royal yacht.
Mendte also said that contrary to assertions by Lane's lawyers, he did not have access to text messages on her phone. And that it was an email he spied where Lane wrote to former state Senator Vincent J. Fumo, seeking a phone number for former Gov. Ed Rendell. Lane was trying to reach "Fast Eddie" the day she got arrested for her altercation with the New York City cop.
Ralph Cipriano can be reached at email@example.com.