ST. GEORGE — Staten Island's long-delayed $230 million courthouse that opened Monday features security cameras in lawyer interview booths — in direct violation of a suspect's constitutional rights, according to the city's Legal Aid Society which plans to sue to get them removed.
The Legal Aid Society announced Tuesday it would file a lawsuit over the cameras to ensure clients' "right to speak in confidence to their attorney" in rooms where public defenders talk for the first time with accused lawbreakers.
"We have long waited for the new courthouse," said Seymour James, attorney-in-chief for Legal Aid.
"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 shiny new courthouse at the intersection of St. Mark's Place and Hyatt Street is the only one in the city with cameras in the booths, including on Riker's Island, according to the Legal Aid Society which represents clients financially unable to hire a private lawyer.
The mayor's office and the city's Law Department did not respond to a request for comment.
The 182,000-square-foot courthouse — which will house the borough's Supreme and Criminal courts — was designed to be environmentally friendly and energy efficient, but the project has been mired in delays for more than a decade, the Staten Island Advance reported.
It was originally slated to open in 2013, but hit several additional snags before finally opening on Monday. It's the first free-standing courthouse to be built in the borough in more than 80 years, the Advance reported.
The Legal Aid Society said the cameras violate the attorney-client confidentiality rights at a crucial time in the criminal process, just before a suspect's arraignment.
"Nothing is more fundamental to notions of justice and fundamental fair trial rights than the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship," James said.
"The very bedrock of this consequential right under the Sixth 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."
Legal Aid representatives said they've met with the city to find a solution, but plan to file a lawsuit if none can be found.