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How can you protect my secrets?

Brandon Stanton worked as a bond trader in Chicago in 2010. He bought a camera and started taking photos in downtown Chicago on weekends.

When Mr. Stanton lost his job, he moved to New York City with a plan to photograph 10,000 New Yorkers and plot their portraits on a map of the city. These photographs led to discussions with his subjects and he started reporting those in a blog, Humans of New York.

I had not heard of Humans of New York until a recent visit to the City. We were sitting in Madison Square Park near Shake Shack. My son and a friend noticed a Black woman, elegantly dressed, riding in a wheelchair. When they noted "she is famous," I assumed she was some film star or musician.

Turns out, her name is Stephanie and Mr. Stanton reported her story in a series of thirty-two blog posts entitled 'Tattletales From Tanqueray.'

Her story begins in Albany where she lived as a child in a “neighborhood [that] wasn’t too nice, but it was better than the black neighborhood on Hill Street.” Stephanie hated her mother who beat her when the house wasn’t clean enough. She reported, “she never showed me love.” Humans of New York, 'Tattletales From Tanqueray.' (2/32)

Eventually Stephanie got in some legal trouble. A judge gave Stephanie the option of returning to live with her mother or going to prison. Stephanie chose prison. (5/32)

Following her release, Stephanie moved to New York City, shared a room at the Salvation Army with a prostitute named Edna, and worked at a clothing factory off Washington Square. (7/32)

A ballet dancer as a child, Stephanie found the dance clubs in Times Square. She “got along with everybody: the pimps, the hustlers, the drug dealers, the mob guys.” (9/32)

One early side hustle was to sell mink coats for a mobster who stole them from the closets of wealthy women. “I’d wear them to all the clubs and wait until I got a compliment. Then I’d unload it. Joe gave me a commission, plus I always added an extra ten percent to his price. So I was making money on both ends.” (9/32)

Stephanie describes being hired by a New York madame to entertain the owner of a famous department store, working as a go-go dancer, and meeting the love of her life. (13-15/32)

It is hard to imagine she left anything out.

I am fascinated by the Humans of New York project: the photos, the depth of the stories, and especially the transparency. How does Mr. Stanton get people to disclose such intimate details knowing he will report their secrets in his blog? And, why do they tell?

Much of my working life is spent protecting my clients’ privacy or working to repair the damage from breaches caused by accusations, subpoenas, and search warrants. Our clients suffer significant damage to their reputations, livelihoods, and relationships from the public disclosure of their secrets, whether its mundane financial information, personal correspondence, or intimate photos.

There is no simple or singular strategy for protecting someone's privacy and reputation. We may negotiate protective orders, request relief through litigation, or develop a messaging plan.

Every situation is different.

Sometimes the damage is done before we meet our clients and we are left to repair the injuries. That’s no small challenge in a culture that leverages social media to vilify people for alleged mistakes, even when the mistakes are decades old.

When clients ask me how I can help protect their secrets, I tell them the first step is to avoid answering questions, especially if they are approached by a guy carrying a camera in New York City.

But I am still glad Stephanie told her story.

We are criminal trial lawyers. We represent people accused of criminal offenses and professional misconduct who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best results and back to leading productive lives.

Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.


P.S.   While publishing 'Tattletales of Tanqueray,' Mr. Stanton raised funds to benefit Stephanie, who lives by herself and suffers a number of health problems. By the end of the series, he had established a trust of $2.6 million from the funds.

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