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Csorny-Kirkland v. Shoreham-Wading River Central School District (Defending public’s right to videotape school board meetings)

This case raises the question of whether, under the New York Open Meetings Law, members of the public have the right to attend meetings of a local school board and, in doing so, have the right to videotape the meetings. Csorny and Kirkland are parents of children in the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District and have been active participants at the regular meetings of the School Board. Csorny and Kirkland noticed that their public comments at the meetings were being distorted and started videotaping School Board meetings in 2000 to keep an accurate record. After conflicts over the taping at several board meetings, the Board passed a resolution barring anyone but the Board itself from videotaping the meetings and reserving the Board’s right to interrupt its own taping if a speaker objected. In supporting the resolution, the School Board claimed that videotaping was intrusive, discouraged participation, and “detracted from the deliberative process.”

The NYCLU Nassau County Chapter represented Csorny and Kirkland in a challenge of the Board’s actions. In a petition to the New York Supreme Court, the NYCLU argued that the 2000 Resolution violated the state’s Open Meetings Law; that the Board’s finding that the amendment was necessary to foster free participation by attendees was factually unsupported; and that the 2000 Resolution was adopted because the Csorny and Kirkland parents were vocal critics of the Board, and would use the videotapes for political purposes. The Supreme Court sustained the 2000 Resolution and dismissed the proceeding.

That decision was reversed, however, by the Appellate Division, State Supreme Court, Second Department. The appellate court agreed with the plaintiffs, in a 3-1 ruling, that videotaping was “wholly consonant” with a liberal interpretation of the Open Meetings Law. The Appellate Division ruled that video and audio taping were “effectively indistinguishable” and that “video cameras provide the most accurate and effective way of memorializing democracy in action….The Board must recognize that its camera ban risks a ‘loss of public trust where it appears that government has something to hide.’” 

Supreme Court, Suffolk County, Index No. 00-31583, App. Div.; 2nd Dept., Index No. 00-31583 (direct)

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