N.J. OKs filming in courts

A ban against shooting films or TV shows in New Jersey courthouses was lifted Wednesday by the state’s Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz.

After exhausting all his political and governmental contacts, New Jersey Motion Picture & TV Commission exec director Joe Friedman met with the judge last December to reverse the ban and increase his state’s profile as a “user-friendly” location for attracting filmmakers.

The ban had been initiated in 1990 following the judge’s prohibition against the shooting of a controversial courtroom scene in Brian DePalma’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities” at the Essex County court house. The scene was relocated to neighboring New York.

Moving that film out of New Jersey meant the loss of a $ 250,000 donation by Warner Bros. for the restoration of the courthouse. Essex County official Nick Amato filed a lawsuit against Wilentz, resulting in the overall ban.

A subcommittee of the commission, including industryites Celeste Holm, Michael Uslan (one of the executive producers of “Batman”) and Michael Proscia, has been appointed to review filming requests to see which meet the justice’s guidelines.

Still banned from filming are pornographic films, scenes that directly support or oppose a political party or candidate, and scenes that pose a significant risk of loss of confidence of minorities in the judiciary.

Wilentz will review the filming issue in one year’s time.

Wilentz issued a statement that said in part: “Prior to the ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ controversy, I had attempted to accommodate the state’s policy of encouraging the movie industry by allowing filming in courthouses. The Judiciary granted practically all applications for such filming. When it was claimed that, having allowed some, the Judiciary was obliged to allow all filming, and so ruled by a federal judge (thereafter reversed by the Court of Appeals), I banned all filming. I will not restate the concerns that prompted my decision. They are the same as those that led to banning the ‘Bonfire’ scene.”

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