Wiretapping charges won't be pursued Baltimore doctor said ABC News team taped interview secretly

December 07, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

City prosecutors will not pursue a wiretapping charge filed against ABC News correspondent John Stossel and several of his producers who allegedly tape-recorded a Baltimore doctor without her consent.

Dr. Grace E. Ziem accused the ABC team in October of covertly tape-recording her as she met with a producer and her sister-in-law, who were posing as patients. Ziem, an expert in multiple chemical sensitivity, treats patients who say they were harmed by exposure to chemicals.

Francine Stokes, a spokeswoman for Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, said yesterday that there was "insufficient evidence" to prosecute and that the charges would be formally dismissed at a hearing Tuesday.

"Mrs. Jessamy had the opportunity to review all the evidence, and that was the conclusion," said Stokes.

Tape-recording conversations without consent in Maryland is a felony.

"What they've done is what we've expected they would do all along," said Martin Blair, a spokesman for ABC News. "There was never any evidence that any wiretapping statute was violated. We're very gratified that the state's attorney agreed."

Ziem and her lawyer, Nicole Schultheis, did not return phone calls yesterday. But Ziem's research associate, Albert Donnay, executive director of MCS Referral and Resources, said he was disappointed by Jessamy's decision.

Prosecutors "will hopefully tell us and others why they didn't feel it necessary even to go to the preliminary hearing," Donnay said. "We feel it's certainly premature that they [dismiss the charge] now. Our bigger issue is Mr. Stossel's junk journalism and his use of phony patients pretending to have chemical sensitivity and trying to discredit Dr. Ziem."

Ziem said that Deborah Stone, an ABC associate producer, and her sister-in-law Julie Stone met with the doctor for several hours. The two reported numerous symptoms, including chest discomfort and changes in their vision, according to Ziem.

Ziem learned who the two women were when she was tipped off by a public health researcher at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan, who had heard that the Stones were preparing a story on "junk science." When Stossel called her for a formal interview in Baltimore, so the producer and her sister-in-law could confront the doctor on camera, Ziem sent Donnay to denounce the correspondent as a "disgrace to responsible investigative journalism." Two newspaper reporters were invited to witness the scene.

Donnay said that the reporters -- David Zurawik of The Sun and Fern Shen of the Washington Post -- interviewed Stossel and that Stossel and his team acknowledged that they had taped Ziem. But Donnay said the reporters invoked a "shield" law LTC protecting them from divulging the contents of the interview, leaving prosecutors with only Donnay's word for what was said.

Zurawik declined to comment last night. Mary R. Craig, an attorney representing The Sun, confirmed that she had filed a motion invoking the Maryland shield law in asking for a protective order and requesting that the court quash a subpoena that would have required Zurawik to testify at a preliminary hearing next week.

Shen could not be reached for comment.

Blair said that a report involving Ziem, which focuses on claims that exposure to all kinds of chemicals can damage one's health, will air on the ABC news program "20/20" on Jan. 3.

Pub Date: 12/07/96

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