its dramatic merits notwithstanding, "The People's Court" is not in fact a court of law and a woman's statements while appearing as a "plaintiff" on the show may not be later used against her in an actual legal proceeding, a Brooklyn judge has ruled.
Last April, a judicial hearing officer relied on a woman's "sworn testimony" from an appearance on "The People's Court" to determine that the woman had not lived with her recently deceased mother and therefore did not have succession rights to her apartment.
In an order released this week, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Francois A. Rivera threw out the hearing officer's findings, holding that the "People's Court" testimony was not, in fact, testimony. "'The People's Court' is not a court, body, agency, public servant or other person authorized by law to conduct a proceeding and to administer the oath or cause it to be administered," Rivera wrote in Kahn v. New York Department of Housing, 15020/09.
"The show has voluntary participants, who are not actors, who speak about disputes on a stage that resembles a court. The words or statements uttered by these participants are not testimony. They are neither sworn nor reliable."
Brooklynite Ellen Kahn initiated the Article 78 proceeding to contest the ruling by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development hearing officer that she did not qualify for succession rights to her late mother's subsidized apartment under the state's Mitchell-Lama Law.
In opposing the petition, the city submitted a DVD of an appearance by Kahn on "The People's Court," the iconic daytime television show in which parties argue actual small-claims disputes before former judges.
In her episode, Kahn had "sued" her mother's home health care aide for repayment of a loan, according to court documents filed by the city. In arguing her case, Kahn told the "court" that she made frequent weekend visits to her mother's apartment.
Such testimony could be damning to Kahn's current case, as the Mitchell-Lama Law requires at least one year's residency in order to assume a decedent's lease -- a fact apparently belied by Kahn's weekend "visits."
The judicial hearing officer, attorney Frances Lippa, cited that discrepancy in her decision.
"Ellen Kahn was sworn in before her People's Court testimony. In response to a question from the Judge, Ellen Kahn stated that she did not live in the [subject] apartment with her mother," Lippa wrote.
"Ms. Kahn further stated in her testimony that although she made frequent visits to her mother on weekends, she could not get to see her mother during the week. Clearly, if Ms. Kahn had been residing in the subject apartment with her mother in the year prior to her death, she would have seen her mother during the week."
Lippa ruled that Kahn did not have succession rights and issued a 10-day notice to quit.
Now, Rivera has overturned Lippa's decision, ruling that she should not have considered Kahn's televised "testimony."
"[T]he statements made on the show have no more probative force than the words of an actor reading from a script in a play," Rivera wrote. "The only difference between the two is that the participants of the show may freely ad-lib their lines."
The judge remanded the matter to the city department to be considered without reference to Kahn's television appearance.
Kahn's attorney, Brooklyn solo-practitioner Lee Nigen, called the decision historic.
"Judge Rivera has handed down a landmark decision that will resound beyond the sound stages of the 'People's Court' and into the tomes of Article 78 case precedent," Nigen said.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Scott Glotzer appeared on behalf of the city.
A spokeswoman for the city's Law Department said, "Affordable Mitchell-Lama housing is a scarce commodity in the city. It is thus important that we make sure that only those who comply with the rules qualify for the housing. We respectfully disagree with the Court's decision and are considering our appellate options."