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More details on "Cornell Idol" videotaping lawsuit

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Earlier this month, reports surfaced over a lawsuit was filed against The GEO Group for Cornell's past actions in July 2009 for allegedly illegally videotaping female residents of a Dallas-area drug treatment facility. The facility is now operated by Phoenix House, but was operated by Cornell at the time, before the Cornell-GEO Group merger. You can read our original coverage of this story here. Since the time of our publishing the original story, more details about the extent of the allegations have surfaced.

The lawsuit alleges that the treatment facility videotaped 36 female residents without their permission and distributed DVDs of these recordings.

"The Dallas Morning News reports, for its Monday editions, that the DVDs were distributed as promotional material for Cornell Companies Inc. The lawsuit, filed last week, says residents were told that the January 2009 videotape would only be seen by judges who sent the women to the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer. The lawsuit says the DVD was instead used to raise money for the program and obtain contracts for other treatment facilities." (AP, The Houston Chronicle, "Lawsuit over videotaping at Texas drug facility," January 10, 2011).

The Dallas Morning News also covered the story:

"One of 36 women complainants in the suit, Theresa Watkins, a heroin addict with a criminal record, said she feels violated. She said she blames the taping and distribution of the video for anxiety and panic attacks she says she has suffered since her release from the Dallas County Judicial Treatment Center in Wilmer...

...'You pretty much go in at your lowest point,' Watkins said. 'We had no choice but to trust these people...'

...As part of the project, 45 female residents were videotaped in treatment sessions and while performing in a talent show called 'Cornell Idol.' Watkins said that the women were also told to march and sing while being taped, and that the marching and singing had never been a part of the treatment.

Those who saw the video include Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, probation officials and a group that donated clothes to women going on job interviews, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit says the material was also shown to other residents and resulted in male patients taunting women who appeared in it.

Price said he doesn't recall seeing the video but said he has toured the facility and has seen presentations about the program.

The attorney who filed the lawsuit, Charles Paternostro, said state and federal laws require a written release to videotape the residents. Paternostro said the taping itself constitutes a privacy violation since there was not written consent.

'To me, it's a clear-cut case,' he said.

The lawsuit asks for $100,000 for each plaintiff and another $100,000 in attorney fees." (Jennifer Emily, The Dallas Morning News, "Company being sued over alleged privacy violation in DVD," January 20, 2011.)

As usual, no officials from GEO are willing to comment on pending litigation. We will keep an eye on this story and relay any further developments in the case.



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