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Search begins on seized Gizmodo journo kit

Steve Jobs in Der Ring des Gizmodophonelungen

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The Gizmodophone saga lurched another step forward Thursday when the chief deputy district attorney for San Mateo County, California, the jurisdiction investigating that misplaced/stolen/repurposed next-gen iPhone prototype, announced that a court-appointed agent had begun to search equipment seized from a Gizmodo editor.

Deputy DA Stephen Wagstaffe told Cnet that a "Special Master" had been appointed by the court to search the equipment taken from Gizmodo editor Jason Chen under a detailed search warrant on April 26.

Special Masters operate under a well-defined set of rules (pdf) outlined by the State bar of California. Essentially, they are practicing or retired attorneys or judges of a minimum of five years active membership in the Bar with no connection to the case to which they are assigned. According to Wagstaffe, they are typically volunteers, but he added that he was under court order not to reveal who was the Special Master in the Gizmodo case.

In case you've been, say, busy fighting a runaway oil spill for the past 45 days and have missed the epic tragicomedy Der Ring des Gizmodophonelungen, the basics are as follows:

  • Apple engineer Gray Powell loses a next-gen iPhone prototype in a bar.
  • Opportunist Brian Hogan finds it.
  • Hogan roommate Katherine Martinson calls Apple security and the police.
  • Hogan shops phone to Engadget, PC World, and Gizmodo.
  • Gizmodo bites, and editor Jason Chen offers Hogan $10,000 for the phone.
  • Martinson and friends try to talk Hogan out of selling the phone, saying doing so would ruin Powell's career.
  • Hogan responds: "Sucks for him. He lost the phone. Shouldn't have lost the phone."
  • Hogan shows Martinson a box containing $5,000 in hundred-dollar bills.
  • Gizmodo publishes info on the phone, including a video of Chen holding it.
  • Gizmodo editor Brian Lam emails Steve Jobs telling him that he'll return the phone if Jobs confirms that it's an actual Apple prototype.
  • Getting wind of the investigation, Hogan and roommate Thomas Warner try to hide evidence.
  • Detective finds evidence.
  • Detective determines evidence strong enough to issue a search warrant (pdf) for Jason Chen's home.
  • The search is carried out.
  • Gizmodo lawyers claim the search warrant was invalid due to shield laws protecting Chen's status as a journalist.
  • The court disagrees, and Wagstaffe and Chen's attorney, Thomas Nolan, agree to the appointment of a third-party Special Master to examine the seized equipment.

And here we are.

The Special Master will now examine the equipment removed from Chen's home — which includes multiple Macs, PCs, hard drives and more — and then pass along to the judge in the case information that he believes is relevant to this case and this case alone. The judge will then pass that info to Chen and his lawyers so they can object to any of the findings if they so wish. After that process, the judge will then decide what to pass on to the DA.

Wagstaffe told Cnet that the whole process should take around two months.

Although no one has yet been charged with a crime during this whole brouhaha, Steve Jobs is more than willing to give his side of the story in the court of public opinion. On Tuesday, when being interviewed at the D8 Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, he cast doubt on both Chen's status — "Who can say if he's a journalist?" — and on Hogan's story — "There's a debate as to whether [the prototype phone] was left in a bar or stolen out of [Powell's] bag."

And Jobs isn't about to let go of this one — if there are charges to be pressed, and Jobs is a position to be the one who presses them, you can be damn sure he'll press, and press hard.

"When this thing with Gizmodo happened," he told the D8 Conference audience, "I got a lot of advice from people who said: 'You've gotta just let it slide. You shouldn't go after a journalist because they bought stolen property and they tried to extort you.'"

Jobs went on to say that he "thought deeply about this," and decided not to "let it slide" because to do so would be against "our core values".

"I can do that," he said. "I'd rather quit."

And so the saga continues, and so begins the pondering over exactly which "core values" Jobs is talking about. ®

Bootnote

Jobs to his D8 Conference audience: "This is a story that's amazing. It's got theft. It's got buying stolen property. It's got extortion. I'm sure there's sex in there somewhere. So somebody should make a movie out of this." If so, who do you think should play Steve Jobs?

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