COURTS: State appeals judges rule no marital exception; L.A. reality show sought to air couple's case

BY BILL DOLAN
bdolan@nwitimes.com

219.662.5328

This story ran on nwitimes.com on Tuesday, June 21, 2005 1:16 AM CDT

VALPARAISO | Wiretapping a spouse suspected of sinister behavior is all right in a paperback mystery, but apparently not in real-life Indiana where a local woman hopes to collect damages from her ex-husband. The Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled Steven W. Dommer violated state and federal law and his wife's privacy by playing the amateur sleuth.

"All is not fair in love and war," Valparaiso attorney Richard Cagen said Monday. He represents Mary Ann Dommer. "You cannot batter your spouse, you can't torture them and the Legislature said (wiretapping a spouse) is one thing you shouldn't do." Nevertheless, Steven Dommer wants to appeal. "It's not a final ruling. Steven wants to file a petition to the Supreme Court that the state of Indiana should recognize a marital-home exception," Chesterton attorney George R. Livarchik responded.

The Court of Appeals found the case so fascinating the judges had the lawyers argue it before a public hearing at an Indianapolis high school this spring. A reality-based television show in Los Angeles (its producers have "The Practice," "Ally McBeal," and "L.A. Law" to their credits) offered to fly the former couple to the West Coast and pay them to have their judge decide the case for the opportunity to broadcast this colorful domestic dispute. Cagen said, "My client would rather not have her life spilled across the airwaves ... arbitrated by some goofy people in Los Angeles. We are happy with (Porter Superior Judge Bill) Alexa and the Indiana appellate court."

There is no dispute Mary Ann and Steven Dommer married in the late 1990s. A son from Steven Dommer's previous marriage moved in, and the couple agreed to surreptitiously record that son's telephone conversations to determine whether he was using illegal drugs. Court papers don't disclose what they learned.

Steven Dommer claims his former wife, Vicky, began receiving hate mail and he came under suspicion by Chesterton police of being behind it. Steven Dommer suspected his wife, Mary Ann, was harassing Vicky. He installed a second listening device, unknown to his wife, behind a water heater in their home and recorded her telephone conversations between March 15, 2001, and July 1, 2003, in the hope of catching her doing something improper. Steven Dommer revealed his secret tapes to Mary Ann when they filed for divorce in September 2003. She sued him as did four of her relatives and friends who he also had taped.

Neither attorney would disclose details of what is in the tapes. The wife's lawyer, Cagen, said, "It's absolutely innocuous stuff. As juicy as the clients think it is, it's not even worth my time to listen to it. We divorce lawyers could care less that people don't get along or so-and-so is having an affair."

The husband's lawyer, Livarchik, argues state and federal wiretapping prohibitions don't apply in the family setting. He said it was legal for Steven and Mary Ann Dommer to spy on his son and equally proper for him to spy on her. Cagen said, "You are absolutely, positively allowed to tape your kid. It's the implicit authority parents have, "but not your spouse, for any reason." "The statute is one of the strongest prohibitions I've seen. It makes absolutely no provision for your motives in doing it."

Source: The Northwest Indiana Times - www.nwitimes.com