Lawyer: Phone hacking legal action to begin in US

September 23, 2011 - 10:25 AM

LONDON (AP) — A group of British phone-hacking victims plan to ask U.S. courts to look into possible "corrupt practices" at Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., a lawyer said Friday. The move could broaden the scope of a scandal that has shaken the mogul's international media empire.

British attorney Mark Lewis told The Associated Press that he had retained American lawyer Norman Siegel, who represents the families of many of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001, to take on News Corp. in the United States.

Lewis predicted that the first hearing could occur within two or three months. But Siegel downplayed the prospect of immediate action, telling AP that he'd only been asked "to explore whether there's legal options that can be brought."

Lewis "asked us to do the research, that's what we're doing," Siegel said.

The high-profile announcement — Lewis appeared on Sky News and BBC television around the same time that he spoke to the AP — seemed designed to instill fear in News Corp. shareholders. Lewis took care to note that damages awarded in the United States were "far higher" than anything than he might win in the English court system.

News Corp. declined comment. Its shares dipped slightly in early morning trading but bounced back up to about $15.80 a share in New York.

Lewis revealed few details of his planned legal action, though he did say the case being pursued was not related to rumors that Sept. 11 victims were hacked by reporters at the News of the World tabloid, which was shut by News Corp. in July.

The now-defunct tabloid is accused of systematically intercepting private voice mail of Britons in the public eye, including, most notoriously, a teenage murder victim whose family Lewis now represents.

Lewis suggested that legal action might begin by taking depositions from various News Corp. officials.

"They will be looking at News Corp.'s liability for actions by its subsidiaries," he told Sky News television. "It will raise issues of corporate governance and control by the parent company over its subsidiaries."

In the U.S., Murdoch's News Corp. is best known for owning media properties such as Fox News Channel, The New York Post and The Wall Street Journal. The New York-based company declined to comment Friday.

Britain has been inflamed by allegations that the News of the World hacked people's phones in its quest for scoops.

Along with spurring the closure of the 168-year-old tabloid, the growing scandal has prompted the resignations of two of Scotland Yard's most senior officers and the prime minister's top media aide.

Murdoch's planned multibillion pound (dollar) takeover deal for satellite broadcaster BSkyB Ltd. was scuppered by the scandal, and his company faces millions in damages as those who've been spied upon continue to come forward.

The scandal has spurred outrage on the other side of the Atlantic as well, particularly after the Daily Mirror, a rival to Murdoch's The Sun, alleged that Sept. 11 victims may have been among the News of the World's targets.

No evidence to support the claim has yet been produced, and News Corp. has dismissed it as "anonymous speculation."