Sarah Janecek — the Republican lobbyist, pundit and erstwhile publisher of the Politics in Minnesota newsletter — can try again to get a restraining order against a neighbor who she claims has put her Minneapolis home under round-the-clock video surveillance for the past six years in “an extraordinary effort to record me and my actions on a daily basis.”
When Janecek originally applied for the ex-parte HRO, Hennepin County District Court Judge Janet Poston concluded the petition was undeserving of a hearing and promptly tossed it.
But on Monday the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed, saying that Janecek ought to have the opportunity to make her case against her next-door neighbor/nemesis in Minneapolis’ Lowry Hill neighborhood, Lee Rosenthal.
In the unpublished opinion, Appeals Court Judge Lucinda Jesson held that surveillance cameras pointed at Janecek’s front sidewalk and boulevard — “while perhaps irritating” — do not merit the issuance of an HRO.
“But the allegation that [Janecek] has seen cameras pointed towards the windows of her home, leading her to fear being videotaped within her home, raises the question whether Rosenthal’s videotaping of these areas amounts to intrusive or unwanted acts intended to have a substantial adverse effect on Janecek’s privacy — in short whether these are acts of harassment,” Jesson opined.
Jesson wrote that she was unable to find any binding authority in Minnesota on whether or not such videotaping constitutes harassment and she pointed out that courts have come to different conclusions when faced with similar factual circumstances.
But Minnesota does recognize a common law tort for invasion of privacy — intrusion upon seclusion — under the Minnesota Supreme Court’s 1998 decision, Lake v. Wal-Mart.
“The right to privacy, as the supreme court noted in Lake, is an integral part of our liberty,” Jesson added. “With this in mind and taking the allegations in the petition as true, the district court should properly have held a hearing to determine whether, in context, the videos amounted to objective unreasonable conduct intended to have a substantial adverse impact on Janecek’s privacy.”
In his brief, Todd Haugen, Rosenthal’s lawyer, argued that Posten’s dismissal of the HRO petition was proper because the only evidence that his client recorded footage of the interior of Janecek’s home came from her “self-serving affidavit.” If Rosenthal is called to testify at a future hearing, Haugen vowed, he will testify that his cameras “are trained only on his property and entryways.”
Reached by phone, Joseph Tamburino, Janecek’s lawyer, acknowledged it could be a challenge to prove that Rosenthal actually recorded the interior of Janecek’s home.
“I wish I could get a search warrant and go into the neighbor’s house and grab all the recordings, but I’m not the government,” Tamburino said. As a consequence, he said plans to ask the court for a discovery order — an unusual step for HRO hearing.
The feud between Janecek and Rosenthal stretches back to 2011 when Rosenthal was cited by the city for renting out a third apartment in his home, which was then zoned as a duplex.
Evidently, Rosenthal blamed Janecek for the crackdown and, in a 2012, he petitioned the court for an HRO, accusing Janecek of, among other things, posting disparaging comments about him on Craigslist, bad-mouthing him to tenants, and blocking their shared driveway with her vehicle.
Hennepin County District Judge Tanya Bransford granted that HRO and told Janecek to refrain from posting any disparaging on-line comments about Rosenthal. The judge also said that she hoped “the parties will find a peaceable and neighborly resolution to their disputes in the future.”
That didn’t happen.
Last year, Rosenthal provided the Minneapolis city attorney with the fruit of his video surveillance, including footage that showed Janecek tipping over his garbage bins and dumping the contents on to the street. Following a trial in which Janecek testified that she had “no excuse” for that particular act, a jury convicted her of two counts of misdemeanor littering and one count of disorderly conduct.
Janecek is appealing the disorderly conduct conviction.