Thursday, May 21, 2009

Man[acle] on a Mission

Judge Arthur Spatt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York will conduct a hearing to decide whether to prohibit Newsday and News12 from using images of seven-term Nassau County legislator Roger Corbin in handcuffs. Corbin, 62, was arrested May 6 on charges of income tax evasion and lying to federal agents.
The 84-year-old judge, who was appointed to the federal court by President George Bush in 1989, voiced concerns from the bench about the ability of Corbin to have a fair trial if prospective jurors have seen photographs or video of the lawmaker with his hands cuffed behind his back. Judge Spatt faulted Newsday and News12 in its accounts of Corbin's arrest for using images of the shackled solon instead of using other pictures from his long legislative career. Attorney David Schulz, representing the media outlets, pointed out to Judge Spatt that no decision of the U.S. Supreme Court or of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ever allowed such prior restraint of news organizations. "Courts do not get [into]telling the media what to publish," Schulz argued.
Corbin is accused of income tax evasion concerning $226,000 he allegedly received from a developer working on a federal contract in New Cassel in the form of 81 checks allegedly received between February 2005, and December 2007, as well as of allegedly lying to federal agents about receiving the money.
According to his Web site (, Corbin was elected to the Nassau County Legislature in 1995, the first person of color to win a seat in that body. He represents the Second Legislative District, which includes, among other communities, East Garden City, Hempstead, and Westbury. Corbin's Web site encourages residents to observe bike safety laws, but makes no mention of tax laws.
Judge Spatt must have missed the Constitutional Law lecture in law school on Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976), which effectively put the kibosh on judicial prior restraint of the news media. The Stuart decision, written by the late Chief Justice Warren Burger, held that before a judge could impose restraint on what the news media published or broadcast, the judge must demonstrate that the case at issue was certain to attract intensive and pervasive publicity, that no other method available to the court, such as continuing the case, sequestering the jury, or relocating the trial, would mitigate the effects of the pretrial publicity, and that any court-imposed restriction would effectively negate the effects of the prejudicial material.
Memo to Judge Spatt: Newsday and News12 used images of Corbin in handcuffs because he was under arrest, and, presumably, no other photos from his long legislative career reflect that he was allegedly engaged in illegal behavior. Perhaps there's a ribbon-cutting photo somewhere of Corbin at a strip mall dedicating a new H & R Block store, but the news outlets lack the resources to uncover it and irony has never been the news media's strong suit. Remember, Judge--it's ok for a criminal defendant to wear handcuffs, but the drafters of the First Amendment prefer that the press remain unfettered.

1 comment:

  1. I agree. The Judge's problem is not with the news media, where he has no jurisdiction, but with jury selection, where he does have influence. So, he shouldn't blame Newsday or News 12 when he gets into VOIR DIRE straits.