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Judge unseals warrant in lost iPhone investigation

Tech news website Gizmodo got hold of a prototype of the iPhone 4G after it was left in a bar in Redwood City, Calif., and Gizmodo's analysis of its new features, along with video and pictures, is setting the web on fire. (Courtesy Gizmodo.com)

May 14, 2010 7:43:37 PM PDT
An attorney representing several media organizations prevailed in getting a search warrant unsealed involving tech blogger Jason Chen of the website Gizmodo. It was an online story on April 19 that revealed details of a next-generation Apple iPhone prototype that was left behind in a Redwood City bar. Superior Court Judge Clifford Creton dismissed an argument by the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office that it was important to protect the identity of confidential informants.

"Serious questions have been raised about how this investigation got started, what evidence was presented to justify searching the home of a journalist and none of those questions could be answered until the search warrant records got unsealed," attorney Roger Myers said.

Superior Court Judge Clifford Creton dismissed an argument by the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office that it was important to protect the identity of confidential informants.

"This is akin to unsealing a police report or giving the public a police report before any suspect or defendant has been caught or captured, and so at this point, whether or not there is any harm to the investigation, that remains to be seen," Deputy DA Chris Feasal said.

According to the unsealed affidavit, the confidential informant was Katherine Martinson, a roommate of Brian Hogan. Hogan, 21, was the person who found the iPhone prototype at the Gourmet Haus Staudt beer garden in Redwood City the night of March 25. Martinson went to police fearing that she might be linked to the case after Hogan docked the prototype to her computer. Martinson told investigators that Hogan showed him a box filled with $100 bills. She said Hogan was paid $8,500, a higher amount than Gizmodo previously had said it paid for the device.

The unsealed court document also reveals that Apple CEO Steve Jobs exchanged e-mails with Gizmodo editor Brian Lam about returning the prototype and that investigators found a trail of evidence at a church and in a lavender bush on a street corner in Redwood City.

Gizmodo's parent company, Gawker Media, argues that Chen is protected under the state's shield law from search warrants because he is a working journalist. The search warrant has not been quashed, and negotiations continue to resolve that issue. Feasal said the computers, phones and storage media seized from Jason Chen's house in Fremont have not been searched for evidence. Chen, along with Brian Hogan, are identified as "suspects" in the search warrant. The name of Thomas Warner is also mentioned several times in the documents, but he is not identified either as a suspect or a witness. Warner was also a roommate of Hogan and Martinson.

The Deputy DA said that charges will be forthcoming "sooner than later," but he provided no other information.


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