More Media on Federal Judge Halting Camera Monitoring of Attorney/Client Conversations

Cameras in the new Staten Island Courthouse were turned off Wednesday morning after Federal Judge George Daniels ruled that the cameras monitoring attorney/client communications in the pre-arraignment rooms must stop.

“This really shocked the conscience,” Tina Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice, told the Daily News.   “We are happy — but not shocked — the judge said, ‘Turn them off until we can figure this out.’ We hope the city will now reflect on what we think was a bad decision.”

The Legal Aid Society's lawyers argued that the cameras were in violation of the Sixth Amendment and that gestures made by the accused during the interviews could impact the criminal case if viewed by prosecutors.  "The constitutional right to a private conversation with your attorney should never be interfered with," Luongo said.




Daily News
Judge turns off cameras in Staten Island courthouse meeting rooms
BY Stephen Rex Brown 
October 22, 2015

A judge has blocked the city’s monitoring of attorneys and defendants when they first meet inside a brand-new Staten Island courthouse.

Manhattan Federal Judge George Daniels ruled Tuesday that the four cameras installed in pre-arraignment meeting rooms violated the terms of a 1999 settlement between the Legal Aid Society and the city.

His ruling bans the use of the cameras under the city’s current policy, stating that the footage – which didn’t include sound – would be held for 90 days by the city Department of Correction.

The videos could be subpoenaed by prosecutors.

Tina Luongo, the Legal Aid attorney in charge of criminal practice, said the cameras were turned off Wednesday morning.

“This really shocked the conscience,” she said. “We are happy — but not shocked — the judge said, ‘Turn them off until we can figure this out.’ We hope the city will now reflect on what we think was a bad decision.”

When the $230 million courthouse opened in September, Legal Aid attorneys cried foul, saying the cameras were a blatant violation of attorney-client privilege.

The cameras also flouted an earlier settlement ordering the city provide private interview booths for attorneys and clients arraigned in Staten Island, they said.

The city had argued in court papers that it installed the cameras for safety reasons. The cameras “are viewed in real time by (the Department of Correction) only for purposes of ensuring security,” the city wrote in filings.

Officials also noted there had not yet been any instances in the new courthouse of defendants having their rights to private talks with lawyers violated.

Daniels scoffed at the city’s argument that the recorded conversations between a lawyer and client in the courthouse remained private as long as the footage didn’t end up in the hands of prosecutors.

“The question is whether this visual monitoring is interfering with the private consultation!” Daniels said during oral arguments, according to the New York Law Journal, which first reported the ruling.

Luongo noted that such cameras do not exist in any other courthouse in the city. There were plans to install a similar system at a court under construction in Bronx.

“We are evaluating our next steps,” a Law Department spokesman said.

Judge Orders Courthouse Cameras Turned Off After Privacy Concerns
By Nicholas Rizzi 
October 21, 2015 

ST. GEORGE — Cameras fitted inside interview rooms of the new Staten Island Courthouse must be turned off immediately, a judge ruled Tuesday, following a lawsuit filled by the Legal Aid Society.

Judge George Daniels ordered the city to halt its "continuous minute-by-minute recording or monitoring by camera" of pre-arraignment interviews between accused lawbreakers and their lawyers inside the newly opened courthouse, the New York Law Journal first reported.

The long-delayed $320 million courthouse immediately came under fire by the Legal Aid Society when it opened last month because of the cameras installed in the rooms where the public defenders talk to their clients for the first time.

"We have long waited for the new courthouse," said Seymour James, attorney-in-chief for Legal Aid, in a statement issued at the time.

"We, however, are dismayed at the city’s violation of our client’s right to confidentiality inside the walls of this new Staten Island Courthouse. Everyone brought before the courts has a right to speak in confidence to their attorney, especially at such a critical moment as arraignments."

The courthouse — at the intersection of St. Mark's Place and Hyatt Street — is the only one in the city to have the cameras, according to officials at the Legal Aid Society, which represents clients financially unable to hire a private lawyer.

Earlier this month, the group filed a suit to turn off the cameras.
The city argued in its court papers that cameras don't record sound or have high-quality enough video to allow lip-reading.

The city said the cameras were installed by the NYC Department of Correction for security and safety reasons, and added that the footage would be kept for 90 days and kept confidential unless its release was ordered by a court, according to the documents.

The Legal Aid Society's lawyers argued that the cameras were in violation of the Sixth Amendment and that gestures made by the accused during the interviews could impact the criminal case if viewed by prosecutors. 

Daniels said in court the decision to turn off the cameras would stand unless the city can develop a method to use them and comply with the Sixth Amendment, the New York Law Journal reported.

“We are evaluating next steps," a spokesman for the city's Law Department said in a statement.

ABA Journal
Turn off security cameras in interview area of new $230M courthouse, federal judge says
By Martha Neil
October 21, 2015 

A federal judge has ordered those in charge of a new $230 million courthouse in Staten Island, New York, to turn off video cameras that had been running in attorney-client interview rooms.

Although the cameras do not record what is said during pre-arraignment meetings and were intended to enhance security, U.S. District Judge George Daniels agreed with the Legal Aid Society that they violate a 1999 settlement with New York City guaranteeing that consultations between lawyers and clients would be private.

The judge also said in his Tuesday bench ruling that the cameras are “likely violative” of clients’ Sixth-Amendment right to counsel, the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

Senior counsel Janice Birnbaum of the city’s law department represented New York City at the hearing. She said the cameras were no different than having a security officer observe through a window, which is permitted. “The rule is you can’t pass the information on to prosecutors,” she said.

The judge disagreed. “I can’t accept your argument [that] private consultation is defined by whether the information gets back to the prosecutor,” Daniels said.

A Legal Aid Society news release provides more details about both the current suit and the earlier litigation that led to the 1999 settlement.

It says the group initially wanted the preliminary injunction granted Tuesday by Daniels, ordering the cameras to be turned off. By the conclusion of the current case, however, Legal Aid wants a court order requiring the cameras to be removed.