ST. GEORGE — Cameras fitted inside interview rooms of the new Staten Island Courthouse must be turned off immediately, a judge ruled Tuesday, following a lawsuit filled by the Legal Aid Society.
Judge George Daniels ordered the city to halt its "continuous minute-by-minute recording or monitoring by camera" of pre-arraignment interviews between accused lawbreakers and their lawyers inside the newly opened courthouse, the New York Law Journal first reported.
The long-delayed $320 million courthouse immediately came under fire by the Legal Aid Society when it opened last month because of the cameras installed in the rooms where the public defenders talk to their clients for the first time.
"We have long waited for the new courthouse," said Seymour James, attorney-in-chief for Legal Aid, in a statement issued at the time.
"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 courthouse — at the intersection of St. Mark's Place and Hyatt Street — is the only one in the city to have the cameras, according to officials at the Legal Aid Society, which represents clients financially unable to hire a private lawyer.
Earlier this month, the group filed a suit to turn off the cameras.
The city argued in its court papers that cameras don't record sound or have high-quality enough video to allow lip-reading.
The city said the cameras were installed by the NYC Department of Correction for security and safety reasons, and added that the footage would be kept for 90 days and kept confidential unless its release was ordered by a court, according to the documents.
The Legal Aid Society's lawyers argued that the cameras were in violation of the Sixth Amendment and that gestures made by the accused during the interviews could impact the criminal case if viewed by prosecutors.
Daniels said in court the decision to turn off the cameras would stand unless the city can develop a method to use them and comply with the Sixth Amendment, the New York Law Journal reported.
“We are evaluating next steps," a spokesman for the city's Law Department said in a statement.