A federal judge has blocked New York City from getting documentary footage that filmmaker Ken Burns gathered in research for "The Central Park Five" about five men exonerated in a 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.
The request involved a $250 million federal lawsuit the men filed against the city nine years ago, a dozen years after a 28-year-old investment banker was attacked, beaten, and raped in Central Park. The attack put her in a coma for 12 days and left her with lasting damage. The men charged in the crime were eventually exonerated, even after one of them confessed and DNA evidence supported his claim.
The infamous attack gave rise to the term "wilding."
Burns conducted lengthy interviews with the five men for the documentary and they told him they were coerced into making false confessions and had to prove in the suit that officials were guilty of misconduct.
Lawyers hoped to use Burns' materials to defend the city in the lawsuit filed by the exonerated men, but on Tuesday a judge ruled in Burns' favor, The Associated Press reported.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald L. Ellis rejected arguments by the city that Florentine Films and filmmakers Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns were independent journalists entitled to reporter's privilege.
Ellis decided that said Florentine had "established its independence in the making of the film" and may claim the privilege. He also said the city failed to adequately address the requirements of relevance and significance of the materials it sought.
Burns told the New York Times that officials declined numerous requests to participate in "The Central Park Five," which will debut next month.
Celeste Koeleveld, a lawyer for the city, told New York Magazine
the footage could be crucial to the case.
"The movie has crossed from documentary to pure advocacy. Under such circumstances, no reasonable person could have expected us to participate in their project," Koeleveld said.
Koeleveld said the city is "disappointed" and is reviewing its options. “While journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly believe it did not apply here,” she said
Burns, on the other hand, said he “jumped up and down” when he heard the news.
"This adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere," he told the AP. "[The decision] is a troubling attempt to expand the power and role of city government and to reduce the legal protection afforded reporters."
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