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Breaking with tradition, judge allows still cameras at murder trial

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         Mar 7, 2001    

Breaking with tradition, judge allows still cameras at murder trial

  • Newspaper wins request to take pictures in courtroom during the trial of a man accused of murdering a mother and injuring her son.

A Sullivan County judge on March 5 overlooked a state statute that bans cameras from state courtrooms in order to grant a newspaper permission to use still photography during a murder trial.

Anthony Schroedel is charged with multiple counts of first- and second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and other felonies for allegedly stabbing to death Barbara Vogt and seriously injuring her son, J.T.

Cameras and recording equipment have been banned from New York’s courtrooms since 1952, except for an interval between 1987 and 1997. This experimental period, which began as a two-year trial, put a temporary hold on a statute banning trial coverage when witnesses appear or may appear under subpoena. During the 10-year experimental period, judges could grant camera access to the courtroom with the consent of all the parties. In the years since, several judges have continued to allow camera coverage of trials with the belief that the law is unconstitutional.

The decision is not the first in New York to allow cameras despite the ban.

In February 2000, Justice Joseph Terisi in Albany refused to ban Court TV from the Amadou Diallo trial, saying to do so would be an unconstitutional abridgment of of the First Amendment, and his decision was not appealed. Since then trial judges have both granted and denied requests to bring cameras into the state’s courtrooms.

Judge Frank J. LaBuda’s ruling came in response to a request by the Middletown Times-Herald Record to allow cameras at the Schroedel trial. In the same opinion, LaBuda ruled that the entire trial, as well as most of the pretrial hearings, would be open to the public and the press. Pretrial hearings are scheduled to begin March 8 with a trial likely in June.

The only closed session will come during a hearing to consider the admissibility of the defendant’s criminal record.

“Forty-eight other states allow cameras in the courtroom, and 37 states televise trials,” LaBuda wrote in his opinion. “It has been stated ‘death is different,’ and the public has a right to an open courtroom whether it is through their own eyes or the recording eyes of the media.”

(New York v. Schroedel; Media counsel: James E. Nelson, Vandewater & Vandewater, Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) EH

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