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Court TV will be permitted to cover Amadou Diallo trial

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         Jan 27, 2000    

Court TV will be permitted to cover Amadou Diallo trial

  • An Albany judge recently found an absolute ban on cameras in state courts unconstitutional and will allow television cameras from Court TV to cover the controversial trial of four police officers charged with murder.

State trial court Justice Joseph Teresi in Albany overturned a state law banning cameras in the courtrooms in late January, declaring the absolute ban unconstitutional and finding the “great public interest” in the Amadou Diallo case mandated an open court proceeding.

“The quest for justice in any case must be accomplished under the eyes of the public,” Teresi said in a written order. “Allowing the trial to be televised will further the interests of justice, enhance public understanding of the judicial system and maintain a high level of public confidence in the judiciary.”

Teresi pointed out that the ruling does not guarantee camera access to all aspects of all trials, but instead only strikes down the absolute ban on camera coverage.

Teresi’s ruling permits only Court TV’s cameras in the courtroom after a request to open the courtroom to all members of the press, made by the New York Daily News, Newsday, the New York Post, The New York Times, the Associated Press, the (Albany) Times Union, the New York Law Journal, and Clear Channel Communications Inc., was denied last week. Court TV’s video and audio feeds will be pooled with other media organizations wishing to broadcast the trial.

Members of an elite New York crime unit fired at an unarmed Diallo 41 times while searching a Bronx neighborhood for a rape suspect in February 1999. Diallo, a West African immigrant, was struck by nineteen bullets. Officers Kenneth Boss, Sean Carrol, Edward McMellon, and Richard Murphy have pleaded not guilty to charges of second degree murder.

The decision to allow cameras in the courtroom came after Court TV filed a motion arguing that both the federal and New York constitutions gave them a right to televise the trial.

It has been almost three years since a camera has been allowed in a New York courtroom. New York began a ten-year experiment televising civil and criminal trials in 1987. Legislators refused to renew the experiment in 1997, citing what they termed the “circus-like” nature of the O.J. Simpson trial, among other reasons.

In compliance with the rules of the old experiment, witnesses in the Diallo case may request that they not be televised. Court TV uses one video camera and can operate it only during those parts of the proceedings which are part of the public record.

Both Stephen Worth, one of the lawyers for the police officers, and Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson do not have immediate plans to file an appeal, which leaves the future state of the New York statute undecided beyond Teresi’s courtroom.

(People v. Bass; Media Counsel: Floyd Abrams, New York City)

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