Judge Quashes City’s Subpoena for Central Park Five Outtakes

  • February 19, 2013

Today, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis ruled that outtake footage from the Ken Burns documentary The Central Park Five is protected by the federal common law “reporter’s privilege.” The documentary, released last year, explores the case of five young men convicted of the 1989 rape and assault of a jogger in Central Park. After several years in prison, all five men were exonerated by DNA evidence. Following their release, the five men filed suit against the City of New York, as well as prosecutors and police detectives, for wrongful conviction (In re McCray, et al., No. 03 Civ. 9685). In defending the case, the City issued a subpoena to the documentary’s production company, seeking outtake footage from interviews conducted for the film. Judge Ellis found that Ken Burns’ production company, Florentine Films, had established entitlement to the reporter’s privilege and that the City failed to show that the information requested by the subpoena pertained to a significant issue in the case and was not available from other sources. ECBAWM filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the International Documentary Association, Film Independent, and a host of award-winning documentary filmmakers opposing the subpoena. The brief was prepared by ECBAWM’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Julia Fong Sheketoff, along with co-counsel Michael Donaldson of the firm Donaldson & Callif LLP in Los Angeles.