A Long Beach massage therapist convicted of secretly taping a bare-chested woman and registered as a sex offender will get a new trial, the state Court of Appeals decided in a 5-4 opinion issued Tuesday.
A majority of the court said Circuit Court Judge Lisa Dodson was wrong when she closed the courtroom during the testimony of a female client videotaped by massage therapist Matthew Edward Pierce.
A crowd of 30 or so showed up for her testimony, the appeals opinion says. She was embarrassed for them to see the videotape of her disrobing from the waist up, then re-dressing after her massage — all while Pierce was out of the room.
She noticed his cell phone propped up on a counter facing the massage table, looked at the phone and saw she was being videotaped. The woman stopped the videotape and texted a copy to her own cell phone.
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Long Beach police arrested Pierce in October 2014. He was convicted in April 2016, sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to register for 25 years as a sex offender.
The appeals court said Dodson should have closed the courtroom only while the videotape played, not during the woman’s testimony. The court said the judge’s decision to close the courtroom during the client’s lengthy testimony, including the playing of the videotape, was overly broad.
The courtroom could have been closed only while the short video played, the court reasoned, because the law entitles a defendant to a public trial.
The justices also found that Dodson wrongly omitted a jury instruction the defense wanted saying Pierce should be found not guilty if the jury concluded he accidentally taped his client.
Pierce claimed he was only trying to time the massage and must have accidentally turned on the video recorder.