'They Had Done Their Homework': Meet Victor Kovner, Attorney for The Jinx Filmmakers

Orleans Parish Sheriff's Office
Sometimes life imitates art. Other times art intimidates life. That seemed to be the case with the HBO documentary series The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, which, over the course of a decade, tracked the shady past of the New York City real estate scion, in particular the trail of deaths that seemed to follow him. The final episode of The Jinx contained a shocking revelation: Durst, after an on-camera interview with filmmaker Andrew Jarecki, wandered into a hotel bathroom still wearing his microphone and made what sounded like a full confession. The shock was compounded by real-life events. The day before the finale was set to air, the FBI arrested Durst in New Orleans for the murder of Susan Berman, a friend of his who was killed in Los Angeles in 2000.

In a media landscape transfixed by artfully told true-crime stories (The Jinx comes on the heels of NPR's wildly popular Serial podcast), the show's presentation of its case against Durst — not to mention the timing of Durst's arrest — raised a host of questions regarding the lines between entertainment and jurisprudence, chain of custody, and the legal responsibilities of documentary journalists. The Jinx navigated this thicket with the help of Victor A. Kovner, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine with a long history of providing pre-print or pre-broadcast review to media outlets (including, from the mid-1960s until the mid-2000s, the Village Voice).

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NYC Public Advocate Calls for Faster Deployment of Police Body Cameras

Categories: Lawsuits, Legal

NYC Comptroller's Office
Interactive map created by the New York City Comptroller showing claims against police.
Letitia James, New York City's public advocate, called Monday for the NYPD to hurry up and make with the body cameras, a proposal that emerged partly out of a court decision last year on the controversial stop and frisk program. Part of the ruling in Floyd v. City of New York called for a pilot program with small, wearable cameras to record interactions, which have been used in other jurisdictions with dramatic results.

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Anti-Abortion Crisis Pregnancy Centers Must Reveal If They Have Doctors On Staff, Appeals Court Confirms

Categories: Abortion, Legal

Photo by Caleb Ferguson
Chris Slatter, Expectant Mother Care founder and president, pictured in his office chapel
New York City has been fighting a long-running battle with anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, and today that fight advanced forward another inch. The city wants those CPCs to disclose to their clients that they're not medical facilities, that they don't have doctors on staff, that they don't offer abortions or abortion referrals, and that the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene suggests that if you're pregnant, or think you might be, you should really see a licensed healthcare provider. In 2011, the New York City Council passed a law requiring CPCs to do all those things. As you might expect, it quickly got messy, legally speaking.

Expectant Mother Care, the crisis pregnancy center chain with 12 locations across New York City, joined by two other crisis pregnancy centers, argued the city's law violated their rights to freedom of speech and religion. A federal judge agreed and struck down that law, and so the case proceeded to an appeals court.

Today, the United States 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that yes, crisis pregnancy centers in New York do need to clarify that if they have an actual medical doctor on staff. But they also ruled in the CPCs' favor on two other things, namely that forcing CPCs to tell their clients that they don't provide abortions, abortion referrals, or emergency contraceptions and that the city health department recommends they see a real doctor, would "impermissibly compel speech."

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Queens Court Must Review Search Warrant Against Convicted Drug Dealer, Court of Appeals Rules

On January 6, 2009, Derek Chisolm was convicted in Queens County Supreme Court on charges of illegally possessing two guns and some weed.

Over the next four and a half years, his legal team appealed the conviction, arguing that a magistrate should not have granted the the search warrant that led to Chisolm's arrest. But over those four and a half years, the State Supreme Court and its Appellate Division rejected those claims, ruling that the NYPD had sufficient probable cause and that a review of the warrant's basis was not necessary.

Late last month, though, the New York State Court of Appeals granted Chisolm a minor victory. The six-to-one decision sent the case back down the judicial rungs, ordering the Supreme Court to review the merits of the warrant by considering additional evidence that it had previously ignored.

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The Numbers Are In: More Than $400 Million Was Raised For Hurricane Sandy Relief


When all else (Congress) fails to raise monies for those devastated by Hurricane Sandy, it's rewarding to see ordinary citizens donate a little extra to the cause. And even more rewarding when that little extra amounts to nearly half a billion dollars.

A month ago, we reported on Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's campaign to apply transparency to charitable organizations. The mission was simple: non-profit groups collecting enormous sums of relief money would be accountable for their actions, ensuring that this relief money was only falling into the hands of Hurricane victims. In order to do so, Schneiderman shot out surveys to these subjects, demanding financial disclosure. Now, just weeks later, we're starting to see the results trickle in from this open-door policy. 

Eighty-eight organizations responded to the AG Charities Bureau's requests. In total, the amounts disclosed equal give or take $407 million. Five charities alone made up about $330 million of this grand relief prize while eighty-three smaller charities patched up the remaining $77 million.

Although the relief package struggling to get passed in Congress clocks in at $60.4 billion, this is a damn fine place to start.

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Schneiderman's Sandy Clampdown Continues: Non-Profits Next On NYAG's List

Last week, we reported on the subpoenas sent out by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to thirteen different gas providers in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The intention was simple: these providers, according to Schneiderman, were targeted for price-gouging consumers to profit off of the energy disaster that ensued after the storm. The move reflected the hostile reaction Governor Cuomo shared with the utility companies (LIPA, ConEd, etc.) at the time.

The story was the first major legal action to come out of Hurricane Sandy by a New York government official. However, yesterday, the AG announced another inquiry but, this time, the target is a much more surprising group: non-profits.

In a statement released to the press, Schneiderman's office announced that it has sent out seventy-five letters to non-profit and charity organizations, asking for financial information and ledgers from the recovery efforts. By doing so, the action is not necessarily an indictment or subpoena - like what's been previously seen with the gas providers - but could still shine a light on what could possibly (emphasis here - they're just data requests) be going on behind closed doors.
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Religious Group Tries to Knock NY's Same-Sex Marriage Law and Fails . . . Again

Over the summer, we reported on this little evangelical group from Spencerport, New York, called the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom. The organization stands on that ever-tipsy fence between religion and politics; its website's mantra states that "as a Christian ministry, NYCF exists to influence legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ." And a main part of this "influence" application is directed toward New York's Marriage Equality Act (read: dismantling it).

In July, the group's lawsuit, which is based around the argument that the law was illegally created behind closed doors, was rejected by the New York state appeals court in Livingston County. The decision reaffirmed the rights of homosexuals to get married and sent the evangelicals packing. Except, at the end of the article, we mentioned that the group "might try to take another wack at the law by taking the case to the next (and final) level of appeals, the New York State Court of Appeals. But a unanimous decision at this stage in an omen for the group's legal future."

Guess they didn't take our advice.
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New York's Same-Sex Marriage Law Triumphs in Court

It's been over a year since New York's Marriage Equality Act was enacted by Governor Cuomo. And, since then, numerous conservative groups across the state have attempted to strike the law down in court. But none have gotten as far as the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom - a group from Spencerport, NY, that seeks to defend "religious values" - and it doesn't look as if any of them are getting much farther.

Yesterday, a New York state appeals court in Livingston County unanimously struck down the group's attempt to uproot the same-sex marriage law, reaffirming the right of homosexuals to get married in New York State. But the group didn't use the common infringing-on-our-rights argument as their plea. Instead, they attacked the process it took to get the law passed - the conference hearings between Cuomo and the Senate - and the fact that they weren't invited to the legislative party.

But, the court ruled that these conference hearings, which are used in nearly every government deal for those who study Civics 101, were completely legal and in accordance with the State's Open Meetings Law. That was the defense of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the man in charge of the state's side in the case who vowed to "protect [homesexuals'] rights every day."

Score one for social justice.

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Obama's DOJ Compares a "Reporter's Privilege" For Leaks to Buying Drugs

The Obama administration has had a tough time fighting the War on Leaks. From Bradley Manning's arrest in the WikiLeaks controversial to the successful subpoenaing of Twitter, critics have heralded the Presidency as one of the most anti-leak executive reigns in recent history.

And a new chapter was written in the War's history books yesterday.

Four years ago, Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times reporter James Risen wrote a book entitled "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration." In it, Risen used leaked information from former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who is now being charged with releasing classified details about a botched plot against Iran. That little inclusion led Attorney General Eric Holder to subpoena Risen three (failed) times to testify against Sterling. 

He has pleaded the Fifth on all occasions, arguing that he had a "reporter's privilege" - a doctrine that keeps the press out of cases like this on the basis that they are simply the middlemen of information. And, in 2011, a federal judge ruled that he had a "qualified privilege" to keep his mouth shut, saying that a subpoena gave no right for the government to "rifle through a reporter's notebook." 

But, on Friday morning, it looked like the Department of Justice could care less.
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Manhattan DA Launches Criminal Investigation into Elevator Tragedy at 285 Madison

Yesterday DNAinfo reported that the December 14 death of Young & Rubicam executive Suzanne Hart in an elevator at 285 Madison Avenue might have been prevented "if elevator repairmen had not violated city rules by rushing the lift back into service without the required O.K. from the Department of Buildings." According to sources, Transel Elevator Inc. did not follow through with the mandatory notification to the DOB following their work on the elevator -- that notification would have led to an independent inspection of the elevator, and, presumably, could have caught the glitch that led to Hart's death before the elevator was boarded by passengers.

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