Court TV sues to shoot New York trials

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Tired of languishing in the hallways outside New York's trial courts, Court TV is suing to push its cameras inside. Specifically, Court TV is suing New York and three New York officials, contending that a New York statute banning cameras in trial courts is unconstitutional.

"New York State is one of only ten [states] that does not permit cameras under any condition and prevents judge from exercising any discretion," said Court TV's Chairman and CEO Henry Schleiff. "Concluding that the state legislature has refused to act on legislation, we decided filing lawsuit was the only option left."

Forty other states allow cameras in their trials courts, while all 50 states permit cameras in appellate courts. Judges, however, often have power to restrict cameras to preserve order in their courtrooms.

Court TV tapped legal ace David Boies to lead its suit. He lead the government's case in the Microsoft antitrust trial and represented Al Gore in Florida's post-election battle. Boies asserts electronic media, namely TV, has equal rights as print media to cover trials.

"There can be guidelines that prevent cameras from being disruptive, but public ought to have the right to see for themselves unedited what's going on," Boies said.

For nine years from 1987-1997, New York allowed cameras in its trial courts as part of four experimental trials, but legislation permitting camera coverage was never passed.

Several New York judges have ruled the statute unconstitutional, but a recent appellate decision overturned those decisions and said proper way for media to obtain rights to televise trials was to seek a judgment.

Court TV's suit names New York Gov. George Pataki, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, and New York County District Attorney Robert Morgenthau because they are the state officials charged with enforcing laws.

Boies also said he hoped a favorable ruling in the New York suit would prompt the other nine states to change their laws, but he did not rule out suing other states.

Schleiff asserted there are no financial or commercial motivations behind the suit, although Boies noted that New York has some of the most important trials. Schleiff predicted his network would prevail in the case.
- Allison Romano

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