Legal Aid, White & Case Win Sixth Amendment Victory Against City Over Recordings in Attorney-client Interview Booths at Local Courthouse

The Legal Aid Society and White & Case LLP lauded a ruling today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacating and remanding an earlier decision permitting the use of surveillance cameras by the City of New York in attorney-client interview booths at the Richmond County Courthouse. The U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York will now hear this case with the Second Circuit’s guidance that the cameras’ potential “chilling effect” on free and open attorney-client communications must be given ample consideration in deciding whether the cameras are permitted under the Sixth Amendment.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for the Sixth Amendment and a victory for due process,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-In-Charge of the Criminal Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Our clients are entitled to meet with their attorneys in private – a fundamental part of the right to counsel. We look forward to arguing the merits of this Sixth Amendment chilling effect on our client’s right to speak freely with counsel, and call on the City to terminate this practice on Staten Island and elsewhere in the interim.”

“We’re very pleased with the Second Circuit’s decision, which affirms the constitutional right of individuals accused of a crime to speak candidly with their attorneys. The Second Circuit appropriately recognized that the presence of surveillance cameras may impede that right because detained individuals may fear that their conversations are being monitored and recorded. We look forward to the next stage of the litigation,” said Colin West, Associate at White & Case.

BACKGROUND

When the courthouse first opened in 2015, Legal Aid attorneys quickly discovered that cameras were installed in the booths, facing the accused. Pursuant to a case settled in 1999, the new courthouse was mandated to provide private and confidential meeting spaces for its pre-arraignment interviews.

The Legal Aid Society, along with White & Case LLP, filed a motion in September of 2015 for a preliminary injunction halting all recording, which was granted. However, less than ten days later, NYC Department of Correction (DOC) again started filming inside the attorney client interview booths which a judge again prohibited them from doing.

While the preliminary injunction remained in place, Legal Aid and DOC worked in settlement conferences towards a resolution. Those negotiations were abandoned in February 2016.

In the subsequent months, DOC began to install cameras at other facilities, ensuring Legal Aid that all cameras would remain off until the matter regarding the Staten Island cameras was resolved.

In January 2017, DOC filed a motion under seal essentially asking the Court to lift the injunction. However, shortly thereafter, DOC withdrew their motion, without any explanation. Legal Aid attorneys were then notified by DOC that cameras had in fact been operating and recording at the Richmond County Courthouse for long periods of time.

Legal Aid and White & Case then filed contempt papers last March with the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (SDNY) demanding that the cameras be completely removed and that the City be sanctioned for violating the court orders.

After the SDNY ruled against plaintiffs in February 2018, Legal Aid and White & Case appealed this matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

This decision is an important victory for the right of individuals accused of a crime to speak freely, openly and privately with their attorney. It will have far reaching effects throughout the City and beyond. This decision recognizes that the presence of surveillance cameras in attorney-client interview rooms may prevent detained people from speaking freely and openly because they may fear their conversations are not private. The Court sent a clear message that due consideration of the accused’s perspective must be balanced against the City’s justification for installing cameras.

Plaintiff-Appellant’s counsel intends to confirm with the City that the cameras have been turned off in accordance with the Second Circuit’s ruling today.