SBD/November 15, 2012/Labor and Agents

Jury Awards Mintz $85,000 In Priority Sports & Entertainment E-Mail Hacking Case

An L.A. federal court jury yesterday awarded CAA Sports NBA agent Aaron Mintz $85,000 to compensate him for the emotional distress he suffered after his former employer, Priority Sports & Entertainment, hacked into his personal e-mail account, violating California law. The jury also answered “No” to the question of whether Priority Founder & CEO Mark Bartelstein directed employees to hack into Mintz’ personal Gmail account two days after he left Priority to join competitor CAA Sports. Mintz' attorney Skip Miller had asked the six-person jury to award $350,000 for emotional distress. Priority attorney Jill Basinger asked the jury to award nothing. The jury awarded $80,000 for past emotional distress and $5,000 for future emotional distress. Federal Court Judge Stephen Wilson earlier this month found that Priority violated Mintz' privacy, as well as the California Computer Data Access & Fraud Act, by gaining access to his private e-mail account. In his order, Wilson found that Priority agent and General Counsel Rick Smith directed Priority NBA agent Brad Ames to access the account. “Aaron Mintz has been completely vindicated. ... Furthermore, all 12 counterclaims filed by Priority Sports were dismissed by the judge as unfounded and lacking in any merit," Miller said. "Aaron is thrilled with the result and happy to be moving forward.” Basinger said, “We are very pleased with the result. At the time when Aaron left, without notice, we had to make sure that our clients were taken care of. We were trying to save the company. By finding that Mark Bartelstein was not involved and the relatively insignificant award, the jury agreed that we did what we had to do.”

INSIDE THE HEARING: During questioning, Mintz said he suffered from anxiety after he learned that Priority employees had accessed his personal e-mail account and reviewed his employment agreement with CAA Sports. Mintz testified that he feared retribution from Priority employees, and especially from his former boss, Bartelstein. Mintz testified that Bartelstein on March 23 told him, “Wait until I tell the world about you. You made your bed. You better be willing to lie in it.” Mintz testified that on March 25 he found that someone from Illinois, where Priority is headquartered, had access to his e-mail for an hour and 55 minutes. He later learned Priority employees had done it. “That tells me they will do whatever they want,” he testified. “I am constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering. I just want to work without fear of what these guys are going to do to me.” Basinger cross examined Mintz on the witness stand for more than two hours yesterday and questioned the severity of all of the health symptoms he complained about.

QUESTIONS OVER E-MAILS: Wilson required Mintz to produce four large boxes of more than 11,000 documents that were printouts of e-mails in his Gmail account. Priority attorneys contended that Ames only looked at three or four e-mails, and only one of those, Mintz’ employment agreement with CAA Sports, was personal. Ames and Smith testified that when Mintz left, they were worried that he would take Priority clients with him. Ames testified that he was reviewing e-mails in Mintz’ Priority business account when he found e-mails that had been forwarded from that account to Mintz’ personal Gmail account, which he did not previously know existed. Ames testified, “It was my idea” to hack into Mintz’ personal e-mail account and that he called Smith and asked him for his advice and opinion whether to do it. He said he did not know it was illegal. Smith testified that he told Ames to follow the e-mails from the Priority business account to Mintz’ personal Gmail account. “The truth is I never went through the exercise of right and wrong,” Smith testified. “It was a mistake.”
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