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District attorney: Recording was illegal, not prosecutable

District Attorney says Gearhart City Administrator's recording was not legal, but the case also is not prosecutable.
By Katherine Lacaze

The Daily Astorian

Published on March 20, 2015 4:07PM

Josh Marquis

Josh Marquis

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis has received calls from multiple people regarding the recording Gearhart City Administrator Chad Sweet made of an October conversation between Mayor Dianne Widdop, former City Councilor Joy Sigler and himself.

Marquis said his answer always has been the same: The recording was illegal but his office would not prosecute it because of the specific facts in this case.

Sigler met with Widdop and Sweet in October during the weekly “Coffee With the Mayor” event at Gearhart City Hall on Wednesdays. Sigler asked to record the conversation, and all parties consented. Sweet then started his own recording on his phone — in plain sight, he said.

“I saw the direction (the conversation) was going, and I became concerned (Sigler) would then have the only recording, because that recording could be shortened or parsed,” Sweet said. “In my mind, I thought that would be OK because she had a recording, I have a recording.”

Answer not different

Harold Gable, who is leading a recall effort to oust Widdop, said on his recall petition statement that Widdop attempted to distribute the recording. Widdop has denied those allegations.

In her guest column in the Seaside Signal published March 6, Widdop states, “I was informed later that both the city attorney and the Clatsop County District Attorney had determined that the city’s recording was perfectly legal and could be distributed to anyone.”

Sigler said she was alarmed the paper published Widdop’s column “with alleged communication to our district attorney.” She said she was told by someone at the district attorney’s office that Marquis did not speak directly with Widdop, Sweet or Gearhart City Attorney Peter Watts.

Marquis said he does not believe he’s “ever spoken to Ms. Widdop,” although he’s spoken to people who haven’t identified themselves by name but have claimed to be on one side of the recall election or the other and asked about this case in particular. He does believe, however, Sweet was one of several people who called him.

“The answer doesn’t get different for different people,” he said.

Oregon law

One-point conversations, such as over a telephone, can be taped without prior authorization of both parties, but it is generally illegal to tape person-to-person conversations without all parties being informed, according to Oregon law. Even law enforcement officers must inform individuals if they are making a recording of their interaction, Marquis said.

That being said, his office has not and would not file charges in this instance because one party was recording with everyone’s prior authorization.

“I wouldn’t submit that charge, and the reason I wouldn’t is because one of the defenses would be, ‘Hell, everyone around that table knew they were being recorded,’” he said.

He would not, however, advise someone to behave in that way because it is not in conformance with the law.

Widdop said that was not the impression she got from Sweet, who “was really concerned because he was the one who did the recording.”

“I wasn’t at fault with this anyway, because I hadn’t done anything,” she said.

She agreed she did not talk to Marquis.

Sweet confirmed he talked to the district attorney.

Sweet said he “may have told (Widdop) that there was no problem here,” which was what he took away from his conversation with Marquis. His understanding, he said, was that this was not a prosecutable offense.


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