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A 51-year-old law banning cameras in New York courtrooms is constitutional, a state Supreme Court justice ruled Tuesday in the first suit ever to attempt to strike down the statewide ban. The suit, brought by Court TV and tried by David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, argued that the ban violated the First Amendment of the U.S. and New York state constitutions. But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich said Tuesday that the statute, � 52 of New York Civil Rights Law, had been enacted for valid public policy reasons and carefully re-examined during 10 years of experiments, between 1987 and 1997, when cameras were permitted under temporary legislation that was later allowed to expire. In reviewing data collected during those years in several polls and reports, Kornreich stressed the importance of giving litigants — and especially criminal defendants — fair trials that will not be transformed into public spectacles. She also said numerous federal decisions, including ones from U.S. Courts of Appeals in the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th circuits, have upheld bans on audio-visual coverage of court proceedings as reasonable under the U.S. Constitution. “Court TV cites no case, and the court is aware of none, where an appellate court, in any state or Federal jurisdiction, has applied strict scrutiny to restrictions on audio-visual coverage of trials,” Kornreich wrote in Courtroom Television Network LLC v. State of New York, 116954/01. She added later: “A State constitutional rule expanding the rights of the media in New York to include the right to photograph and broadcast court proceedings would derail what is, and always has been, a legislative process.” New York is one of nine states that bans cameras at trial courts, and at least nine New York state courts have arrived at different conclusions concerning the constitutionality and scope of � 52. Court TV’s suit set out to clarify differing rulings on the subject, following a road map laid out by the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Santiago v. Bristol, 273 AD2d 813. The company’s suit argued that the statute restrained free speech and relied on now-invalid assumptions like the disruptive nature of cameras built when the statute was passed. The office of Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer defended the suit, although Spitzer has publicly supported cameras in the courtroom. In court papers, however, the Attorney General’s Office argued that there was no federal or state constitutional right to broadcast trials. During oral arguments in June, Justice Kornreich treated Court TV’s claims skeptically. In her 52-page opinion Tuesday, she firmly dismissed them, referring extensively to the Legislature’s repeated attempts to modify the temporary law allowing cameras and its eventual decision to prolong the ban. ‘AMPLE EVIDENCE’ “The vast record developed during New York’s ten-year experiment contains ample evidence from which the Legislature could rationally conclude that Civil Rights Law � 52 advances the State’s interest in fair trials,” Kornreich wrote. “As the New York experience developed, and observation of the experiments became successively more objective and comprehensive, concerns about the effect of audio visual coverage on trial participants persisted and even increased. There was credible testimony that some witnesses had been deterred from testifying by the prospect of being filmed, while others had been negatively affected at trial.” The judge concluded by referring to a Law Journal column written three years ago by Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, who at the time advocated that the question of cameras in the courtroom be decided in the Legislature. “The Court recognizes that important issues raised by audio visual-coverage of trials in New York are not settled now, and, perhaps, always will generate strident opposing views,” Kornreich wrote. “However, the Court agrees with the advice of Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman.” Assistant Attorney General Sachin S. Pandya appeared for Spitzer’s office.

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