The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Plaintiff, V. Kenneth BOSS, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy, Defendants. in the Matter of Courtroom Television Network, Proposed Intervenor(*)

By Teresi, Joseph C. | Albany Law Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Plaintiff, V. Kenneth BOSS, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy, Defendants. in the Matter of Courtroom Television Network, Proposed Intervenor(*)


Teresi, Joseph C., Albany Law Review


This Court is in receipt of a notice of motion, fried by proposed intervenor, Courtroom Television Network, seeking an order (a) permitting Courtroom Television Network to televise the trial in this action and (b) determining that Courtroom Television Network may televise the trial in this action, subject to coverage guidelines set forth in the papers submitted by Courtroom Television Network on the grounds that [sections] 52 of the Civil Rights Law is unconstitutional.

This Court has received opposition to this motion from the defendants solely on the grounds it is barred by Civil Rights Law [sections] 52. Defendants do not cite to the Court any invasion of the requirement of a fair or impartial trial as a ground to object. An affirmation from the People states that they take no position as to the constitutionality of New York Civil Rights Law [sections] 52. The People submit their support for enabling legislation which would remove the prohibition of [sections] 52. The Attorney General, by letter dated January 18, 2000, declined to participate in this proceeding. The Court has also received an amicus curiae brief in support of the proposed intervenor's position from the City of Albany.

Initially, the Court will grant the motion to intervene by Courtroom Television Network and consider the motion.

The Court takes notice of the decision in this case of Justice Patricia Williams, Bronx County Supreme Court, dated June 4, 1999, which dealt with a similar challenge by WRNN-TV Associates, LTD., and Pro Se Views, in which she denied the relief requested. The Court also notes the change in circumstances since that decision, namely the change of venue granted in the decision of December 16, 1999 of the Appellate Division, First Department. People v. Boss, et al., 261 A.D.2d 1, 701 N.Y.S.2d 342. The court also notes that the present challenge is under both the federal and state constitutional rights of the public while the earlier challenge was solely under the New York State Constitution.

Section 52 of the New York Civil Rights Law in pertinent part reads as follows:

   No person, firm, association or corporation shall televise, broadcast, take
   motion pictures or arrange for the televising, broadcasting, or taking of
   motion pictures within this state of proceeding, in which the testimony of
   witnesses by subpoena or other compulsory process is or may be taken,
   conducted by a court, commission, committee, administrative agency or other
   tribunal in this state.

This is a per se ban on all audio-visual coverage of trial court proceedings, under all circumstances in any case.

In considering this challenge to the constitutionality of [sections] 52 this Court is guided by the principle that all legislative enactments are "supported by a presumption of validity so strong as to demand of those who attack them a demonstration of invalidity beyond a reasonable doubt." Matter of Van Berkel v. Power, 16 N.Y. 2d 37, 40, 261 N.Y.S.2d 876, 209 N.E.2d 539; Lindsley v. Natural Carbonce Gas Co., 220 U.S. 61, 31 S.Ct. 337, 55 L.Ed. 369; Matter of Fay, 291 N.Y. 198, 52 N.E.2d 97. This is accompanied by another presumption that the Legislature has investigated and found the existence of a situation showing or indicating the need or desirability of the legislation (Matter of Van Berkel v. Power, 16 N.Y. 2d 37, 40, 261 N.Y.S.2d 876, 209 N.E.2d 539; East N.Y. Savings Bank v. Hahn, 293 N.Y. 622, 59 N.E.2d 625, affd. 326 U.S. 230, 66 S.Ct. 69, 90 L.Ed. 34). The party challenging the facial constitutionality of a state statute bears a heavy burden of proof [,] Wood v. Irving, 85 N.Y.2d 238, 623 N.Y.S.2d 824, 647 N.E.2d 1332 (1995). With these considerations in mind, this Court will examine [sections] 52.

Section 52 was enacted in 1952 and the history of that statute and its original intent is well documented in movants' papers. The New York State Legislature in 1987, pursuant to [sections] 218 of the Judiciary Law, approved an 18-month experiment of audio-visual coverage of civil and criminal trial court proceedings. …

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The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Plaintiff, V. Kenneth BOSS, Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy, Defendants. in the Matter of Courtroom Television Network, Proposed Intervenor(*)
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