New York City Has Blatantly Violated Attorney/Client Confidentiality Rights in Staten Island Criminal Court; Legal Aid and White & Case Will File Suit

New York (September 28, 2015) The Legal Aid Society and the law firm of White & Case charge that the City of New York has blatantly violated the attorney/client confidentiality rights of our clients by installing video cameras to record the interviews between clients and their attorneys and by maintaining those interviews and will file a lawsuit to protect their Sixth Amendment rights.

New York City today opened a much anticipated $230M Criminal and Supreme Courthouse in Staten Island. City officials have long advanced that the new state of the art and energy efficient design, would promise great change for a Staten Island community, still lingering from the effects of hurricane Sandy and reeling from Eric Garner’s death. Yet, one serious thing was overlooked: the rights of the accused. Within the new courthouse the New York City Department of Correction has placed cameras inside the arraignment interview booths to observe and record accused individuals’ interactions with their attorneys.

“The Legal Aid Society, as the primary defender for the City of New York, is obligated to protect the rights of our clients and the community we serve," said Seymour W. James, the Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society. " We have long waited for the new Courthouse to serve the community of Richmond County. 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. Members of our community have been arrested and waited up to 24 hours for an opportunity to meet their attorney. They wait to go before the Court, and have an opportunity to be heard and released to return to their families, their jobs, their jobs, and their lives.

"New York City’s decision to blatantly disregard the Sixth Amendment defies any notion of fair play. The City’s decision to place recording cameras in the attorney client interview booths has pierced the confidential attorney client interview. No other county of the City has such cameras. Our fellow citizens in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens are not having their rights violated in this way as they meet their attorneys prior to arraignments. Even the interview booths on Rikers Island do not have cameras. Only the people of the Staten Island community, will have a City camera pointed at them in the arraignment attorney interview booths.”

The initial arraignment interview of the accused is where the person who is accused first meets his or her lawyer. It is without question one of the most critical moments of a case. For each of nearly 200,000 people that pass through New York City courts each year, both the person accused and the lawyer need to focus on the most critical needs presented by the case. The initial arraignment interview often forms the basis of the attorney client relationship. It gives the attorney the opportunity to explore investigative leads, assess the client’s mental health needs, as well as discuss critical information that will form the basis of the lawyer’s bail request.

What happens at the arraignment has a dramatic impact on the ultimate outcome of the criminal case. An open discussion between the attorney and the client followed by an effective bail presentation are essential. If lawyers are denied unfettered access to their clients at this critical stage, many accused individuals’ liberty, health and welfare will be in jeopardy. People who are released at the arraignment stage have a 50% chance of getting convicted. People who go off to jail have a 92% chance of a conviction.

“Nothing is more fundamental to notions of justice and fundamental fair trial rights than the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship,” Mr. James said. “The very bedrock of this consequential right under the 6th Amendment is the notion that communications between a client and his or her lawyer are privileged. As lawyers for people who are accused of violations of the law we have an ethical obligation to protect our clients’ confidential communications and to fight on their behalf. And, so, together with our co-counsel from the law firm of White & Case, we are bringing a lawsuit to remove the cameras from the arraignment interview booths so that people brought before the Court can speak freely and openly to their counsel."

The Society met with the City in hopes of avoiding the necessity of litigation and will continue to work with the City to find acceptable alternatives.

Legal Aid attorneys handling the case include: Justine Luongo, the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice; William Gibney, Director of Special Litigation in the Criminal Practice; Christopher Pisciotta, Attorney-in-Charge of the Staten Island office of the Criminal Practice; and Cynthia Conti-Cook, Staff Attorney in the Special Litigation Unit.

White & Case lawyers on the case include: Gregory Little, Colin West, Joshua Elmore, and Priya Srinivasan.