Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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December 11, 2008

Video snared in Web of controversy

Houston judge slaps down local attorney’s posting on Net of taped deposition in civil fraud case

A videotaped deposition in a Houston civil lawsuit has raised an interesting legal question, and Athens attorney Jeff Weinstein is at the center of the issue.

Last December, Houston resident Elizabeth Harper filed a civil lawsuit against Mac Haik Ford Ltd. in Harris County’s Court-at-Law No. 4. She claimed the dealership engaged in fraud by failing to disclose all the terms of her financing on a pick-up truck she purchased. Harper claims she should have paid a lower interest rate than the dealership secured for her.

Two months ago, Weinstein — who is representing Harper — deposed Mac Haik Ford Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Heath. The deposition, taken on October 8, was videotaped.

Harper, Weinstein says, was outraged by some statements Heath made and wanted others to know about it. So Weinstein posted a six-minute clip of the deposition on his Athens-based law firm’s Web site. By doing so, he said he hoped to inform other consumers who might be looking to buy a vehicle.

But earlier this month, the video could no longer be found on the site or its host, YouTube.

On December 3, Harris County County Court-at-Law No. 4 Judge Roberta Lloyd — based on a request from the defendant — ordered Weinstein to yank the video off his Web site. The issue got immediate notice among the ABC and Fox news affiliates in Houston, and now it’s raising an interesting question in legal circles: What is an attorney allowed to do with a deposition, which may or may not be considered public record?

“This is one of the more interesting issues I’ve been involved with,” Weinstein said Wednesday. “I still don’t see anything we did that was wrong.”

The YouTube hosted video was posted on the Weinstein Law Firm’s Web site under the title, “It’s Not a Kickback — It’s a Fee, An excerpt from a deposition in a case where an automobile dealership marked up the customer’s interest rate from 7.5% to 10.5% and did not tell her.”

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