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In re American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.

Other Lower Courts

October 1, 2001

In the Matter of Subpoena Duces Tecum to American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., Concerning The People of the State of New York
Steven Crea et al., Defendants.


Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler L. L. P., New York City (Robert P. LoBue and Todd R. Geremia of counsel), for American

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Broadcasting Companies, Inc.Gerald B. Lefcourt, P. C., New York City (Gary G. Becker of counsel), for defendants.


Jeffrey M. Atlas, J.

American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC) moves to quash a subpoena served upon it by Steven Crea which demands the production of any and all documents, notes, memoranda, correspondence, transcripts, summaries, audiotapes, videotapes, film or computer files in ABC's custody or control, in whatever form recorded, that relate to or concern Sean Richard. The demand includes but is not limited to any materials that memorialize, relate to or concern any statements made by Sean Richard to ABC whether or not ABC News has used or intends to use such statements in a published news story. For the reasons which follow, the motion to quash is granted.

Steven Crea is the lead defendant among a total of 49 defendants charged by indictment with enterprise corruption, bribery, coercion, and grand larceny, for their alleged involvement in criminal schemes related to the construction industry. The indictment alleges that Steven Crea is the leader of the so-called " Lucchese Crime Family." It also alleges the existence of the " Lucchese Construction Panel," which has been described as a group that met weekly to plan and assess the status of various criminal ventures on construction sites. It is claimed that this construction panel was made up of Crea, codefendants Dominick Trucello and Joseph Datello, and a former associate of the Lucchese Crime Family, now an informant for the People, Sean Richard. It was the People's intention that Richard would remain a confidential informant until this case was in a trial posture, and in the earliest stages of this litigation I signed protective orders to keep his identity secret. However, since the defendants' arrests, Richard has given interviews to at least two news organizations, the New York Times and ABC News. In these interviews Richard apparently discussed the allegations in the indictment, and his and others' participation in this criminal enterprise. A minuscule portion of a seven-hour videotape made by ABC with Richard was first aired on the day of the arrests in this case. Some months later ABC aired a few minutes of the interview. Crea's subpoena seeks disclosure of the unaired balance of the interview.

While ABC moves to quash the subpoena on several grounds, the most significant claim is that the demanded material is

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protected from disclosure by Civil Rights Law § 79-h, also known as New York's Shield Law, which defines the parameters of professional journalists' privilege against the disclosure of confidential and nonconfidential news.

The Shield Law provides professional journalists with absolute protection from contempt citations for refusing to disclose the source of confidential news, and qualified protection for refusing to disclose nonconfidential news. It is patently clear that the Richard interview, which ABC aired in part and which they undoubtedly plan to air more extensively in the future, is nonconfidential news. Therefore, Crea bears the burden of satisfying the demand of a three-prong test articulated in the statute before disclosure is required. Nonconfidential news is protected " unless the party seeking such news has made a clear and specific showing that the news: (i) is highly material and relevant; (ii) is critical or necessary to the maintenance of a party's claim, defense or proof of an issue material thereto; and (iii) is not obtainable from any alternative source." (Civil Rights Law § 79-h [c].)

To begin with, there seems to be no doubt that the Richard interview is relevant to the indictment to be tried. Indeed, it is virtually conceded that the interview with Richard covered, in considerable detail, his claimed relationship to the Lucchese Crime Family's corruption of the construction industry and the activities of the defendant Crea and others in that alleged criminal enterprise.

The more troubling issue exists with respect to whether or not the material sought is critical or necessary to the maintenance of Crea's " claim, defense or proof of an issue material thereto." (Civil Rights Law § 79-h [c] [ii].) The defendant argues that this video is critical and necessary to the defense because it will help with the preparation of this mammoth case, it will demonstrate for the jury in the starkest terms Richard's arrangement with the government and his hopes for movie and book deals, it will reveal Richard's motives to lie, and it will provide invaluable impeachment material. Crea contends that in balancing the defendant's need for the material against potential harm to ABC caused by the disclosure of this material, the defendant's need for this material should prevail. ABC argues that by virtue of the New York Times article and the portions of the Richard interview that have already been ...

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