[Marxism] City Rebuffed in Bid for Outtakes From Central Park Jogger Film
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Feb 20 12:15:29 MST 2013
NY Times February 19, 2013
City Rebuffed in Bid for Outtakes From Central Park Jogger Film
By RUSS BUETTNER
New York City lawyers were rebuffed on Tuesday in their efforts to
subpoena outtakes from the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns’s movie about
the five men who were convicted and later exonerated in the racially
charged 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.
A federal lawsuit brought by the men has been pending for 10 years. As
part of the city’s defense, its lawyers last year subpoenaed notes and
outtakes from Mr. Burns’s film, “The Central Park Five,” which was
released last year and included extensive interviews with the men.
Mr. Burns, who made the film with his daughter, Sarah Burns, and her
husband, David McMahon, fought the subpoena, describing it as an assault
on journalism that would have a chilling effect on reporting of
City lawyers argued that Mr. Burns’s production company had veered from
journalism into advocacy on behalf of the five, in part because he had
publicly said he hoped the film would encourage the city to finally
settle the case.
Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis of United States District Court in
Manhattan rejected the city’s contention that the issue was similar to a
federal appellate court ruling in 2011 concerning another documentary
filmmaker, Joe Berlinger. In that case, Mr. Berlinger had to turn over
outtakes from “Crude,” a 2009 film about a group of Ecuadoreans who were
suing Chevron, saying that oil fields established there by Texaco (now
owned by Chevron) polluted their water supply.
Whereas Mr. Berlinger had been asked to make a film from the
Ecuadoreans’ perspective and removed a scene from the movie at the
request of their lawyer, the Burns team had remained independent, the
Judge Ellis said that the city’s comparisons of Mr. Burns to Mr.
Berlinger were “misplaced” and that having a point of view did not
necessarily preclude the protections against subpoenas generally granted
“Indeed, it seems likely that a filmmaker would have a point of view
going into a project,” Judge Ellis wrote.
The judge criticized city lawyers for mischaracterizing Mr. Burns’s
comment to suggest his purpose was to affect the lawsuit.
“The manipulation of the quote in this manner is troubling,” Judge Ellis
wrote in a footnote.
Mr. Burns, who was vacationing with his family in Puerto Rico, said he
“jumped up and down” when he learned of the decision.
“I think it’s a hugely important decision and I think it reverses some
of the harmful effects of the Berlinger decision,” he said. He added
that he hoped the decision returned the focus to “getting a resolution
for something that has haunted New York for far too long.”
The five men, who as teenagers came to embody racial tensions in a city
overtaken by rampant crime, confessed after being held and interviewed
by the police for more than 24 hours. Though they recanted almost
immediately, all five were convicted, based largely on their confessions.
About a decade after their convictions, a man who had been convicted of
a string of rapes on the Upper East Side the same summer as the Central
Park attack bumped into one of the convicted men in an upstate prison.
The convicted rapist, Matias Reyes, eventually confessed, and his DNA
matched evidence found on the Central Park victim.
Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney at the time,
ordered a new investigation and, on his recommendation, a Manhattan
judge vacated the convictions of the five men.
The city’s Law Department was “disappointed and reviewing our options,”
said Celeste Koeleveld, the city’s executive assistant corporation counsel.
“While journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly
believe it did not apply here,” she said in a statement. “This film is a
one-sided advocacy piece that depicts the plaintiffs’ version of events
as undisputed fact. It is our view that we should be able to view the
complete interviews, not just those portions that the filmmakers chose
Judge Ellis also ruled that the city failed to meet the requirements for
subpoenas to journalists for nonconfidential material: that the material
would be significant and relevant to its case and was unavailable
elsewhere. He said pretrial depositions would give the city’s lawyers
ample opportunity to question the five men.
“It’s a marvelous decision for documentary filmmakers and point-of-view
journalists,” Mr. Burns’s lawyer, John Siegal, said. “And it’s an
important victory for the media industry generally.”
More information about the Marxism