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Corasanti Testimony Couldn’t Be Televised

 

I was asking for the impossible in the Corasanti trial. No, I’m not talking about justice. I was advocating something that would have been against the law.

That’s the word from Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio, who presided over the recent trial of Dr. James Corasanti.

I had suggested in a few blogs that Judge DiTullio allow Corasanti’s key testimony to be televised if she were allowed to do that.

I called the judge’s chambers Sunday night to find out and left a message. She returned my call Monday to explain what the law allows when it comes to TV coverage of trials in New York State. It wasn’t as much an interview as a teaching exercise and a learning experience.

Representatives of the local TV stations had told me that whether cameras were allowed in the court during the Corasanti case was up to the discretion of the judge. Not exactly.

First, some background with the help of stories available on the Internet. Eleven years ago when she was an Acting Supreme Court Justice, Judge DiTullio was an advocate for cameras in the courtroom. DiTullio wrote back then that the state’s 49-year-old ban on court broadcast coverage was “an anachronistic vestige of a bygone era.”

After noting that 48 states permitted “some form of audiovisual coverage” in court, she added that it was “in sharp contrast to New York State, where some 50 years later, [the law] continues to operate as an utter ban on audiovisual coverage in the courtroom, despite nearly ten years of study and experimentation.” According to a story available on the Internet, Judge DiTullio concluded the studies showed that cameras in the court wouldn’t hurt anyone in the case or the court’s integrity.

There is no evidence that she changed her mind. According to Internet stories, the state’s highest court changed the rules. Four years after Judge DiTullio made her comments, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously that New York’s ban on cameras in courtrooms didn’t violate the First Amendment or the New York Constitution. The ruling declared that Section 52 of the New York Civil Rights Law – which was used to ban cameras in the court — was constitutional.

On Monday, Judge DiTullio explained that means that trial court judges now only have the ability to allow cameras in the courtroom for non-testimony, such as opening and closing statements and jury verdicts.

She added that she had no discretion when it came to allowing testimony to be televised and that any New York state trial court judge would be kicked off the bench if they allowed it because of Section 52 of the Civil Rights Law. In other words, she couldn’t have allowed Corasanti’s key testimony or any testimony to be carried.

Her 2001 comments suggest she would have allowed cameras in the court during the Corasanti trial if she had been allowed to.  The public reaction against the acquittal of Dr. Corasanti on all felony charges could have been exhibit A for the argument that cameras should be allowed in the court.

That’s because the vast majority of the public made up their minds that the verdict was unjust without seeing or hearing any of the testimony heard by the jurors. The only members of the public who heard the testimony were the ones who came to court. Televising the proceedings would have allowed the public that has been quick to condemn the jury a chance to see what jurors heard.

Judge DiTullio said she could have allowed the verdict – which wasn’t testimony – to be televised but she used her discretion not to do so “out of respect” for the jurors who were told they would not be photographed.

So what does this mean when it comes to Judge DiTullio’s sentencing of Corasanti on Aug. 18 on his misdemeanor DWI conviction? Considering Judge DiTullio’s past views in favor of cameras in the courtroom and her explanation that non-testimony can be televised, it would be a good educated guess that she will allow cameras in the court on the day that Corasanti could be sentenced to a year in jail or less, community service or probation.

Not surprisingly, coverage of the Corasanti verdict led to a spike in local news ratings Wednesday. At 6 p.m. when the verdict on most counts was in but not yet announced, Channel 2 topped Channel 4, 10.9 to 9.7. Both of those figures were well above the station averages of Channel 2 (8.1) and Channel 4 (8.0) during the May sweeps.

At 10 p.m. when both stations carry newscasts on other stations, Channel 4 had a 6.3-3.2 edge. Once again those figures were well above the May sweeps averages of Channel 4 (4.5) and Channel 2 (2.1). Qt 11 p.m. Channel 4 won decisively with a 12.5 rating, 40 percent above its May average of 8.9. Channel 2’s 11 p.m. news was delayed that night because NBC carried the first game of the Stanley Cup finals between Los Angeles and New Jersey, which the Kings won in overtime. Channel 2 News had a 5.6 rating after the game ended, slightly below the 6.0 it averaged in May.

Speaking of the Kings-Devils series, L.A.’s overtime win Saturday night in game two had a 6.8 rating on Channel 2, about a point lower than game 1 here. L.A.’s win in game 3 Monday was carried on NBC’s cable sports network and figures to have a lower rating.   

pergament@msn.com

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