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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dr. Dre Successfully Defends Privacy Suit Brought By Detroit Officials

The case has percolated up and down Michigan's legal system for a decade.  Today, the Michigan Supreme Court handed Dr. Dre a long-sought win over former Detroit officials who tried to sue the rapper and a host of promoters on a tort-based eavesdropping theory.

In reversing the Michigan Court of Appeals, the High Court adopted the rationale of dissenting judge Chris Murray who concluded that no reasonable juror could conclude that the city officials had a reasonable expectation of privacy in their heated back-stage discussions with Dre's crew at the Joe Louis Arena in the summer of 2000.

Considering that MTV was in the house with their camras rolling, I agree with Judge Murray.

The dispute concerned how Detroit officials dealt with some of the raunchier segments of Dre's show.

Police commander (and later City Council President) Gary Brown and other police officials met with Dre's concert promoters backstage prior to the show and advised that power to the show would be cut if the explicit video was shown.  After some haggling, and perhaps some arm twisting, the promoters talked the performers to go on with the show, sans intro. The exchanges were openly recorded by a tour film crew.

When the tour moved North the next day to the Palace of Auburn Hills, word had leaked to authorities in that community that the Detroit Police successfully canned the objectionable video intro by threatening to cut power to the event.  The tour went to federal court, that day, and obtained an injunction from U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Edmunds to prevent any interference with the show on behalf of the police.  The show at the Palace featured the explicit video introduction.

The tour left Michigan, and the promoters sued Detroit and settled for their attorney fees.  Former Mayor Archer issued a public statement that conceded the possibility of an unconstitutional "prior restraint" on behalf of the Detroit Police officers, and recognized the federal court injunction that was subsequently issued.

Six months later, Dre and his producers released a DVD of the tour with some bonus tracks which included a 10-minute segment titled, "Detroit Controversy".  This segment depicted some of the heated exchanges between Commander Brown, the DPD, City officials, and the tour promoters at the Joe.

The officers sued on eavesdropping and other tort theories and saw their case summarily tossed-out by the Wayne County Circuit Court.  The officers' first appeal to the Michigan Court of Appeals resulted in an affirmance of the summary disposition, except on the eavesdropping claim.  The intermediate appellate court said dismissal of that claim was premature as discovery had not been completed.

The case was sent back to the Wayne Circuit Court to complete the discovery process.  The additional evidence simply showed the Detroit government officials and police conducting the meeting in "public" areas backstage; doors open and hangers-on gawking.

Even after this so-called "additional evidence" was adduced and discovery finally closed, the Wayne Circuit Court again granted summary disposition in favor of Dr. Dre and the concert promoters; the case again was appealed by the officers to the Court of Appeals.

The victory for Dr. Dre in the Michigan Supreme Court further strengthens the First Amendment reputation of Honigman Miller's Herschel Fink.

The final outcome was hard-fought and the right decision.  A public figure, back stage with his promoters, trying to work-out content problems with public officials while MTV camera crews record the give-and-take, does not describe a private moment.  Whatever words are uttered in the mix are fair game to digitized and splashed throughout the world wide web.

To force the rapper through a trial on the public official's tort claim would have a chilling effect on such productions.

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