Crime - Sacto 911

Issue in businessman’s sex tape case: Do hookers have right to privacy on the job?

There’s not much debate over whether former Sacramento business titan Mike Lyon has secretly filmed his interactions with prostitutes: He pleaded guilty to four felony counts charging that back in 2011 and spent time in jail for doing it.

On Friday, Lyon, the former head of Lyon Real Estate, was back in Sacramento Superior Court in his latest case involving such charges, sitting silently at the defense table as attorneys argued over fine legal points about whether on-call prostitutes have a right to privacy while they are on the job, or whether their conduct in a client’s bedroom is the same as being in a workplace.

“This is not sex for affection,” Lyon attorney Linda Parisi argued as she fought to get Lyon’s charges dismissed. “This is a commercial trade. Money for sex.”

Prosecutor Mike Kane disagreed, saying Lyon’s bedroom could not be considered a workplace where a worker might be taped by security cameras.

“He’s not recording it for some legitimate business purpose ...” Kane argued. “He’s recording it for his own personal desires.”

After nearly two hours of such debate, the outcome for Lyon was mixed.

Judge Maryanne Gilliard declined to throw out evidence in the case against Lyon. A 2014 raid on his home and subsequent search of his electronic devices that turned up 16 secret video recordings was legal, Gilliard ruled.

The judge also declined to dismiss the case based on the argument that prostitutes do not have a right to privacy while working because they are engaged in illegal conduct.

“I cannot find that a prostitute is stripped of their privacy merely because they are engaged in their profession,” Gilliard said.

The judge did dismiss four of the 16 felony counts of electronic eavesdropping against Lyon, saying that four recordings contained video but not audio and could not be charged under the statute prosecutors originally charged. But she said Kane could refile those four counts as misdemeanors if he chooses.

Whether the case will end up at trial – with what could be a tawdry baring of evidence about Lyon’s personal behavior – still is not certain.

Both sides agreed to push the trial date back from July to Aug. 24 and to return to court June 30 to discuss whether a plea deal has been reached, an outcome that has eluded attorneys for more than two and a half years.

Lyon, once one of the region’s leading businessmen and philanthropists, has seen his social standing collapse since November 2010, when he was arrested by Sacramento sheriff’s deputies and charged with secretly recording women in his Arden Oaks mansion. That case stemmed, in part, from a bitter divorce during which evidence was turned over to the FBI and other authorities.

He pleaded guilty in March 2011, apologized for his actions and resigned from his position with the family firm. He spent months in jail and on home arrest, was placed on probation and paid out millions of dollars to family friends and employees who sued him for recording them in private areas of his homes.

By October 2014, as one of his attorneys was working to end his probation, authorities got an email tip alleging that Lyon was again secretly recording women in his home. Sacramento probation officers raided his home and seized electronic devices that they later searched and discovered contained videos.

Parisi argued Friday that officials had no right to search those devices without Lyon’s permission or a court order, saying cellphones and computers contain so much personal information nowadays that they cannot be included in routine orders that place defendants on searchable probation.

“It is a far-reaching invasion,” Parisi said. “That invasion is too great.”

Kane disputed that argument, noting that Lyon is facing the same charges now that he faced in 2010, and that he was on probation for those offenses when his devices were searched.

“These are probation officers doing what probation officers are charged to do,” Kane said.

Gilliard agreed, noting that Lyon accepted the terms of probation – including “very standard search conditions” – in his 2011 plea.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam