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Law banning cameras in court fails to convince another judge

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         May 8, 2001    

Law banning cameras in court fails to convince another judge

  • The trial of a man charged with murder in a fatal street mugging will be televised despite a state statute that bans camera access to courtrooms.

Following a string of similar rulings from judges across the state, a New York judge decided to ignore a state statute banning courtroom camera coverage to allow a Buffalo television station to broadcast a murder trial.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Sheila A. DiTullio on May 1 said WIVB-TV could televise the trial of Lorenzo Jones, who is charged in the 1998 murder of Buffalo landlord Gary Trzaska. In October, the judge also allowed television coverage at the trial of Alex Nance for the same killing. Lorenzo’s trial began May 3.

DiTullio said in her ruling that the state’s 49-year-old ban on court broadcast coverage is “an anachronistic vestige of a bygone era.”

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 experiment, judges could grant camera access to the courtroom with the consent of all the parties.

During oral arguments on April 25 on the camera access motion, the prosecution did not object to camera coverage, but the defendant opposed the coverage, arguing it violates state law and would compromise his right to a fair trial.

DiTullio noted that 48 states currently permit some form of audiovisual coverage in the courtroom, which is “in sharp contrast to New York State, where some 50 years later, [the law] continues to operate as an utter ban on audiovisual coverage in the courtroom, despite nearly ten years of study and experimentation” showing that such coverage would not compromise the rights of the parties or the integrity of the proceedings.

In the nearly four years since the end of the experimental period, some judges have continued to allow camera coverage of trials after finding that the law banning cameras is unconstitutional. Recently, a Sullivan County judge agreed to allow still and video cameras into a capital murder case, and the New York State Bar Association passed an endorsement to allow cameras back into the state’s courtrooms without the consent of the parties.

“Advanced, state-of-the art technology, together with the promulgation of guidelines designed to ensure that victims, witnesses, parties and their families are protected, has made this a very different world from what it was in 1952,” DiTullio said in her decision.

(New York v. Jones; Media Counsel: Paul I. Perlman, Hodgson, Russ, Andrews, Woods & Goodyear, L.L.P., Buffalo, New York) EH

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