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Oral argument over the constitutionality of New York’s 52-year ban on cameras in the courtroom evoked surprisingly few questions Wednesday from a panel of the Appellate Division, 1st Department. Jonathan Sherman, who pressed Court TV’s appeal of a ruling upholding the law, told the five-judge panel that the ban without doubt implicated free speech rights and the rationale for barring cameras has long since passed. Associate Solicitor General Sachin S. Pandya, who defended the law, countered that there is no constitutional right to televise court proceedings. Court TV’s arguments advance policy considerations, which are best addressed to the state Legislature, he said. In one of only three questions posed during the 20-minute argument, Justice Angela Mazzarelli asked Sherman, of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, whether Court TV’s remedy was to go to the Legislature. In 1952, New York enacted Civil Rights Law � 52, which bars TV and movie cameras from courtrooms in any matter in which compulsory testimony may be elicited. During a 10-year period from 1987 to 1997, however, the Legislature authorized the televising of proceedings under a set of rules devised by the Office of Court Administration. Civil Rights Law � 52 makes the broadcast of a court proceeding a misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail. In recent years, 10 New York state trial judges have issued rulings allowing criminal cases to be televised, according to Sherman. One of those cases, however, was reversed by the Appellate Division, 4th Department, which observed there is “no right under the U.S. Constitution to televise or otherwise broadcast” a criminal trial ( Santiago v. Bristol, 273 A.D. 813). ADVERSE IMPACT FOUND Court TV’s challenge to the camera ban had been rejected at the trial level by Acting Justice Shirley Werner Kornreich in Courtroom Television Network v. State of New York, 116954/01. Data collected during New York’s 10-year experiment with cameras in the courts created a “vast record,” from which it could be concluded that televised coverage of criminal trials could compromise defendants’ fair trial rights. Sherman took issue with that analysis Wednesday by noting that the ban had been enacted “at the dawn of the TV age.” Concerns that television cameras would inhibit witnesses and jurors were disproved during New York’s 10-year experiment, he said. Over the course of 1,700 trials televised during the decade-long experiment, Sherman argued, “not a single witness or juror was compromised.” He also pointed out that 41 states have allowed cameras into courtrooms. Pandya acknowledged that there is evidence going both ways on the effects of cameras in the courtroom, but contended that only policy considerations were involved that did not alter the basic legal framework. KEY CASE CHALLENGED Pandya contended that the key case relied upon by Court TV — Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980) — established a First Amendment right to attend criminal trials, but said nothing about the right to televise them. Sherman countered that if the U.S. Supreme Court had found speech rights implicated when a cable company sought access to utility poles to wire an area, then certainly the First Amendment requires “a modicum of scrutiny” when examining whether a constitutionally required public trials should be televised. The appeal to the 1st Department drew amicus briefs supporting Court TV’s challenge from a consortium of media companies, including CNN and Time Inc., and the National Press Photographers Association. The New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers submitted an amicus brief urging that the ban be upheld. Among the spectators at Wednesday’s argument were Fred Graham, Court TV’s chief anchor and state Solicitor General Caitlin J. Halligan. In addition to Justice Mazzarelli, the panel included justices Eugene Nardelli, Richard T. Andrias, Luis A. Gonzalez and John W. Sweeney Jr.

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