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Top N.Y. judge: Let cameras in court

ALBANY — The state’s top judge says advances in technology make it more important than ever to open courtrooms to cameras so New Yorkers can see for themselves how justice works.

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who presides at the Court of Appeals where arguments are routinely broadcast online, is calling for a change in state law so people understand how laws are being interpreted, rights determined, criminals punished, and tax dollars spent for the courts and legal system.

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‘‘To close our courtrooms to cameras in an age that we have today, with the technology we have . . . and for the people in New York to not be able to see what happens in our courtrooms doesn’t make any sense,’’ Lippman said.

New York lawmakers 25 years ago approved camera coverage of court proceedings on an experimental basis but the experiment ended 10 years later when the Legislature didn’t vote to continue it.

While some judges have permitted still photographers and video cameras on a limited case-by-case basis, Lippman said access is cumbersome and requires judges to navigate an outdated law. Passed 60 years ago, it prohibits audiovisual coverage of public proceedings where witnesses are subpoenaed or otherwise compelled to testify.

The New York State Defenders Association opposes courtroom cameras, saying broadcasting threatens the right to a fair trial because of adverse publicity, that most states impose restrictions, and that there’s no First Amendment right to photograph or televise inside courtrooms.

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