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Court TV on Wednesday sued New York state and three public officials, alleging that a per se ban on cameras in the courtroom violates the state and federal Constitutions. In seeking a declaratory judgment on the constitutionality of �52 of the New York Civil Rights Law, which bars video photography in the trial courtroom and may prohibit still photography as well, Court TV is seeking to take the long-simmering debate over audio-visual coverage to a different and dispositive level. The suit was carefully crafted in accordance with a New York Appellate Division, 4th Department, ruling last year that provided a virtual roadmap on how to challenge �52, and that implicitly issued an invitation to do so. With this litigation, Court TV is accepting the invitation, albeit in a different judicial department. The nub of the case is that �52 of the Civil Rights Law, which has banned audio-visual coverage of trial courts since 1952, is at best an outmoded provision based on assumptions — such as that cameras are inherently disruptive — that are no longer factually supportable. It attacks the provision under both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the far more expansive state constitutional counterpart, Article 1, �8. The state constitution not only prohibits government restraint on free speech, but affirmatively guarantees the citizenry the right to “freely speak, write and publish,” and specifically prohibits government action that would “restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press.” Henry Schleiff, chairman and chief executive officer of Court TV, told a press conference Wednesday that the suit filed in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan marks the “first time anywhere that any media organization has sued a state for the sole purpose of ending a per se statutory ban against any and all televised coverage of trials.” It names as defendants the state of New York, Gov. George Pataki, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer and New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Representing the network are David Boies, Jonathan D. Schiller and Jonathan Sherman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which is headquartered in Armonk, N.Y., with corporate counsel Douglas P. Jacobs as counsel. The suit seeks a declaratory judgment that �52 is unconstitutional and that there is presumptive right to televise trials. If successful, it would topple a half-century-old provision drafted in response to the sensational coverage of the Bruno Hauptmann/Lindbergh baby trial. The exceptionally broad �52 specifically prohibits televising of any proceeding where compelled testimony “may” be forthcoming before a “court, commission, committee, administrative agency or other tribunal.” A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. Despite the �52 ban, the New York Legislature generally allowed cameras in the courts on an experimental basis from 1987 to 1997, when the enabling legislation sunset. In recent years, at least nine trial judges have weighed in on various aspects of the ban, and no two decisions are the same. Unresolved is whether New York can categorically ban cameras from the trial courtroom, whether the prohibition was ever meant to include still photography, whether the ban applies to the photography and/or videography of all witnesses or only those who are subpoenaed, and a plethora of procedural questions centering on just how the prohibition — whatever it amounts to — should be challenged. A 4th Department ruling last year provided a compass of sorts for navigating the courts. In Santiago v. Bristol, 273 AD2d 813, the justices in Rochester, N.Y., held that a challenge to the constitutionality and viability of �52 can be addressed only through a declaratory judgment motion, which is the exclusive province of the supreme court. Court TV’s suit is precisely the type of action, a declaratory judgment, suggested by the 4th Department, and it was commenced in the forum, the supreme court, that was recommended by the Appellate Division. “We have concluded that since the state Legislature has continuously refused to act on legislation allowing cameras back into the courtroom, filing a lawsuit was the only option left,” Schleiff said. He said New York, which for so much of its history was at the national forefront in free speech issues, is now among only 10 states that do “not permit cameras in trial courts under any condition, and therefore prevents a presiding trial judge from exercising any discretion in determining whether to allow cameras in any particular case.” Boies said Court TV opted to challenge the New York law primarily because many of the most important trials in the nation are conducted here, and because the state’s constitution has one of the strongest free speech guarantees. In the complaint, Court TV argues that the “per se rule banning the televising of every single trial in this state cannot stand in an age where citizens’ knowledge of the functioning of their government has been vastly expanded by, and become dependent upon, television and the Internet. It cannot stand in the face of the many studies that offer no evidence to justify a total ban.” LAUNDRY LIST OF TRIALS Although Court TV is not requesting permission to televise any particular proceeding, it did provide a laundry list of trials it would have covered had it not been for the prohibition — and will likely cover if it prevails. Among the trials Court TV said it would have covered was the civil defamation suit that former Dutchess County Assistant District Attorney Steven Pagones brought against the Reverend Al Sharpton in connection with the Tawana Brawley hoax. If successful, Court TV said it would plan to cover the upcoming trials of Pablo Rodriguez, the Rikers Island guard accused of raping a prisoner, and of Susan Mooney, the Bronx infanticide defendant raising postpartum depression as her defense. In Albany, the issue of cameras in the courts is not on the front burner, or even the back burner. The main advocates in the Legislature say there is no momentum toward reauthorizing audio-visual coverage of trials. They have also said resolution of the issue will almost certainly have to come from the courts. Court TV’s suit places the issue squarely in the hands of the judicial branch. Interestingly, all of the individual defendants have supported cameras in the courtroom. A spokesman for Spitzer said Wednesday that as a matter of policy, the attorney general believes that cameras and recording devices should be allowed in trial courts. However, Spitzer also defends the constitutionality of �52. “The Attorney General has long been a proponent of cameras in the court; however, as a constitutional matter, we believe the current law is a defensible and constitutional policy choice by the state Legislature,” said spokeswoman Juanita Scarlett. Courtroom TV Television Network LLC v. State, filed under Index No. 116954/01 with the New York County clerk, had not been assigned to a judge as of Wednesday afternoon.

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