A man locked in bitter divorce proceedings with a tobacco heiress was caught bugging his wife’s phone and listening in to her conversations with her attorney, an infraction that a Brooklyn judge said should cost him any claim on the family’s wealth.
And while the incident occurred in the often bare-knuckle world of matrimonial law, Raoul Felder, who represents Anne Resnik, the daughter of a Philip Morris CEO, said the case should serve as a cautionary tale to attorneys in every practice area, from bankruptcy to criminal, when speaking with their clients on the phone: The opposing party could be listening.
“Why was the attorney-client privilege created?” Felder said. “It wasn’t just for divorce work. This is a violation of that privilege.”
Felder said he found that Resnik’s estranged husband, Crocker Coulson, had purchased spyware as well as a software program called IPVanish that could conceal his internet identity by obtaining his bank records in discovery.
In May 2015, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Sunshine ordered the seizure of Coulson’s iPhone and computers; the existence of spyware on Resnik’s phone came to light in February 2015, but it had been installed since October 2014.
Coulson used the spyware to not only listen in on her conversations but also read her text messages and emails and track her location.
When asked about the purchases during a deposition, Crocker laughed and invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege a total of 58 times, according to court papers.
Sunshine apparently did not find the situation funny. In a ruling issued on Feb. 5, the judge said that Coulson’s conduct “offends all semblance of judicial integrity” and meted out the harsh sanction of striking Coulson’s pleadings on equitable distribution.
“If the court does not protect the integrity of the litigation process the very system for protecting the rights and due process of all litigants is compromised,” the judge said.
Daniel Nottes of Felder, Felder & Nottes is also appearing for Resnik.
Coulson is appearing pro se in the case, despite Sunshine’s repeated reminder at proceedings in the case that he has the right to an attorney.