LOS ANGELES — The founder of TMZ.com is promising a fight, saying the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department illegally obtained his phone records in its investigation into who leaked a report on Mel Gibson's 2006 drunken driving arrest, including details on the actor's anti-Semitic tirade.
Harvey Levin's comments came during a speech Monday night at UCLA at an event hosted by the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California. He said he considers the department's actions an assault on the First Amendment.
"It breaks federal law. It breaks state law," Levin said. "It's outrageous. We've met with lawyers and are charting our course of action. This is not going to go away."
Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said the phone records were obtained legally.
"This was signed by a judge, it was consulted with the district attorney's office before any of this was done," Whitmore said. "It was absolutely legal.
"The First Amendment is paramount for the Sheriff's Department," he said. "This was not about him (Levin). This was about looking at the unauthorized release of documents."
Gibson was arrested for misdemeanor drunken driving on July 28, 2006, on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. His anti-Semitic slurs, detailed in a report leaked to the celebrity Web site, provoked outrage, and the "Braveheart" actor and director later apologized.
The officer who arrested Gibson, Deputy James Mee, became the target of a criminal investigation into whether he leaked the arrest report. Records obtained during that investigation showed several calls between Levin and Mee's home. But authorities determined it was impossible to say who made the calls on Mee's end of the line.
Prosecutors eventually declined to charge Mee, citing a lack of proof that he leaked details about the case.
Gibson pleaded no contest in August 2006 and was given three years probation, fined $1,400 and ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Earlier this month, a judge agreed to expunge his drunken driving conviction after he successfully completed the terms of his probation.