Court Security

Legal Aid threatens suit over interview-room cameras at new $230M courthouse

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Surveillance camera

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A new $230 million courthouse in Staten Island, New York, hadn’t been open to the public for a full day before a lawsuit was threatened by the Legal Aid Society on Monday.

Despite its gleaming walls, handicapped accessibility, convenient proximity of civil and criminal courtrooms and modern technology, the five-story building has a serious flaw, the group tells the Staten Island Advance. Unlike other New York City courthouses, interview rooms in which meetings between lawyers and low-income clients awaiting arraignment take place occur under a camera’s eye.

“It is a blatant violation of the attorney-client privilege and doesn’t happen in any other part in the city,” attorney Justine Luongo, who oversees the non-profit society’s criminal practice, told reporters. “Potentially, what we have here is an evidence-gathering mechanism that violates our clients’ rights.”

The society says it will file suit later this week seeking a court order requiring the cameras to be disabled.

The state corrections department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the newspaper. Luongo said the society was told the cameras were for security, to ensure that prisoners don’t harm themselves or other inmates. But he disputes that cameras are required for this purpose, since lawyers and clients are separated in the interview rooms by a sturdy sheet of plexiglass.

Another Staten Island Advance story provides more details about the new courthouse.

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