Judge rules for Ken Burns in ‘Central Park Five’ suit

City of New York sued to obtain access to outtakes

A federal judge has rejected the city of New York’s attempts to obtain outtakes from the documentary “The Central Park Five,’ ruling that filmmakers Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon were shielded by journalistic privilege.

The city attempted to obtain the clips as it defends itself in civil litigation brought by Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Kharey Wise and Yusef Salaam, who were convicted and served prison time for the 1989 attack on Trisha Meili, known as the “Central Park jogger.”

In 2003, following another man’s confession and DNA evidence, the New York Supreme Court vacated their convictions, but they filed suit against the city, the New York Police Department and the district attorney. The doc “Central Park Five” chronicled their case.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis said that Florentine had “established its independence” in making the movie, rejecting the city’s argument that they lost their privilege when they advocated on behalf of the subjects of the documentary. He also wrote that the city failed to “adequately address the twin requirements of relevance and significance,” noting that the edited version of the movie was sufficient to gather material as the city challenges the credibility of the Central Park Five.

The case drew the attention of the documentary community, which filed an amicus brief written by Michael C,. Donaldson and Andrew Cielli.

“Preservation of the journalistic privilege for documentary filmmakers in spite of how they initially find out about a story and in spite of how passionately they advocate for their subjects is essential to documentarians being able to work effectively,” Donaldson said.

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