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Judge denies media access to Kopp arraignment hearing

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         Jun 12, 2002    

Judge denies media access to Kopp arraignment hearing

  • A trial court prevented media from bringing their cameras in a Buffalo, N.Y., courtroom for the arraignment hearing of James Kopp, accused of killing a doctor who performed abortions.

Media attempts to gain access to an arraignment hearing of a man accused of murdering a doctor who performed abortions were thwarted by a state trial court in Erie County on June 6.

The Buffalo News and Lin Television, a CBS affiliate, had requested permission to place cameras in the courtroom for the arraignment of James Kopp.

Kopp, 47, is accused of killing Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, who was shot and killed by a sniper attack at his home in East Amherst, N.Y., in October 1998. He also faces federal charges of using a firearm to commit a violent crime and violating a federal law that makes it a crime to interfere with the operations of an abortion clinic. Kopp was extradited from France June 4 under an agreement that he will not face the death penalty.

The Buffalo News had requested that a still camera photographer be allowed in the courtroom while Lin Television wanted to provide video coverage of the arraignment.

State Supreme Court Judge Eugene Fahey denied the media’s motion citing security concerns and a need to ensure protection of the defendant’s rights.

New York Civil Rights Law Section 52 prohibits the broadcast of certain court proceedings but has been declared unconstitutional by some courts. However, Section 52 does not apply to still photography, and The Buffalo News argued that the court has the authority to permit still photography based on the Rules of the Chief Administrator and supporting case law.Joseph Finnerty, attorney for The Buffalo News, further argued that photography would neither prejudice the rights of any parties nor disrupt court proceedings because cameras are virtually silent and operate in available light.

The media appealed Fahey’s decision to Judge Vincent Doyle, administrative judge of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. Doyle upheld Fahey’s decision, citing rules requiring the consent of all parties to allow media access in arraignment and suppression hearings.

Erie County District Attorney Frank Clark did not oppose the media’s presence, but defense counsel Paul Cambria Jr. objected, telling the court that he felt camera courtroom coverage “distorts the process and results in unfairness to the defendant.”

(New York v. Kopp) JLW

© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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