Lawyers Forcing City Into Court on Violation of Attorney Client Privilege

The Legal Aid Society, and the law firm of White & Case have filed an Order To Show Cause asking Federal Court Judge George B. Daniels to force the City of New York to permanently remove cameras that are installed in the arraignment interview area of the new Staten Island Courthouse. The Order also seeks a Preliminary Injunction to remove the cameras while the case is pending and a Temporary Restraining Order to enjoin the City from operating the cameras (i.e., turning them off) while the Preliminary Injunction application is pending.

The City installed the cameras in the interview booths used by attorneys to interview their clients before arraignments knowing that this is a blatant intrusion on the client¹s constitutional right to private consultation with counsel. Judge Daniels has scheduled a hearing on the matter on October 15 at 11:00 a.m.

More than 20 years ago, The Legal Aid Society, on behalf of persons arrested in New York City and awaiting court appearances, filed a lawsuit against The City of New York for failing to provide private interview booths for clients arraigned in Richmond County. In Grubbs v Safir, Judge Denny Chin found that the lack of private rooms for pre-arraignment attorney-client consultation at the Richmond County Criminal Court violated criminal defendants Sixth Amendment right to counsel:

“The assistance of counsel would be rendered meaningless if that counsel¹s client were to be inhibited from speaking openly and freely”. The remedy for this Sixth Amendment violation was resolved through a settlement agreement, which was so-ordered by the Court (the “Settlement Order”). The Settlement Order in this case states that: “ The City shall use its best efforts to construct or install, by August 31, 1999, an interview booth for pre-arraignment detainees to consult privately with counsel in the courthouse at 67 Targee Street, Staten Island, New York.”

Now, 16 years later, the City of New York and the Department of Corrections have used the construction of a new criminal courthouse in Richmond County as an excuse to undermine that critical portion of the Settlement Order. Specifically, in the new courthouse, the City has

installed surveillance cameras in the booths where attorneys consult with clients pre-arraignment. Moreover, the City has informed The Legal Aid Society that the cameras will be set to record and that the recordings will be retained by the Department of Corrections for 90 days.

“The City of New York should know better. We sued them on these same grounds over 20 years ago and they settled with us after a federal court justice reminded them of the importance of attorney/client privacy,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense

Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “We should not have to ask the Court to force the City to adhere to the terms of the settlement order to provide a person a full opportunity to speak privately with their attorney before going before the Court for arraignment.”

“The initial arraignment interview is where the person who is accused of a crime first meets his or her attorney. It is without question one of the most critical moments of a case,” said Deborah Wright, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. For each of nearly 200,000 people that pass through New York City courts each year, both the person accused and the attorney need to focus on the most critical needs presented by the case. The initial arraignment interview forms>the basis of the attorney client relationship. It gives the attorney the opportunity to explore investigative leads, assess the client¹s mental health needs, as well as discuss critical information that will form the basis of the attorney¹s bail request. ³It¹s hard enough to quickly establish a relationship of trust with a complete stranger. Now with cameras recording conversations between attorneys and clients, the attorney¹s job of securing the trust of their client is next to impossible.”

The Society met with the City numerous times to try and avoid the necessity of litigation and will continue to work with the City to find acceptable alternatives.