By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
An accused subject of prosecution whose case was covered by the cameras following the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office for a television show is asking the network to provide all raw footage relating to his case, believing that the material will exonerate him.
The six-episode CBS docu-series “Brooklyn D.A.,” which aired May 28, 2013, depicted prosecutors as they worked to investigate and bring to justice to a myriad of Brooklyn cases. One such case was that of Joselito Vega, an accused art thief. Prior to the airing of the show, the Brooklyn DA’s Office issued a press release announcing Vega’s indictment for the theft of paintings by Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet and Yaacov Agam.
In order to catch him in the act, Brooklyn sting investigators hired Vega, a house painter by trade, to paint a home in Kings Point, Long Island. Works of art were placed in the home, and hidden cameras were set up. Vega was caught on video taking three works of art. While Vega was caught on Brooklyn surveillance cameras, CBS cameras recorded the entire process of the investigation as they were documenting footage for the pending series.
Vega’s attorney, Tim Parlatore, asserts that the very cameras that were recording the theft contain footage that could exonerate Vega. Parlatore contends that Vega and the Kings Point homeowner were friends and that the homeowner asked Vega to take and sell the alleged stolen paintings for a profit. Video in CBS’ possession contains evidence that Vega was given written instructions by the Kings Point homeowner to take and sell the painting, they claim.
CBS, however, refuses to hand over its material, arguing that it is a “news organization” protected under the shield law. The shield law, which forms its basis from the First Amendment protection of the freedom of the press, is codified in New York state law and protects journalists and news organizations from revealing their information sources obtained during the news-gathering process.
If required to reveal the Vega footage, CBS contends such disclosure would “create the appearance that journalists are, or can readily be converted into, investigators for defendants or prosecutors…[and] such an impression undermines [the] ability and integrity of [CBS’] independence.”
Parlatore argues that CBS cannot be afforded the protection of the shield law because its not a true news organization -- at least not in its involvement with the “Brooklyn DA” television series. The Brooklyn DA’s office maintained “close supervision” over the CBS crew during filming, Parlatore argues.
This relationship, Parlatore’s argument continues, transformed CBS’ actions during the filming of the docu-series from private action into State action and therefore no longer protected by the shield law.
CBS at “all times acted independently of the [Brooklyn] prosecutors,” one of the show’s producers, Susan Zirinsky, stated in an affidavit.
CBS and Parlatore will have to wait for a Brooklyn court to decide whether or not the footage will be given to the defense or held in CBS’ possession.