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Led by NPPA, over 60 Media Companies & Organizations Join in Support of Journalists’ Rights

March 20th, 2017 by nppaeditor and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On March 17, 2017, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit supporting a visual journalist’s appeal of a lower court decision in favor of the defendant police officers who arrested him.

That “friend of the court” brief was joined by a broad coalition of over 60 media companies and organizations engaged in press photography, videography, broadcast news, journalism (both online and in print) and free-speech advocacy.

Photojournalist Douglas Higginbotham was covering an Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park in New York City on the morning of November 15, 2011. In order to get a better vantage point from which to record the large crowd of police and protestors he climbed to the top of a phone booth. Mr. Higginbotham claims that while he was in the process of complying with police officers, who had asked him to come down, he was forcibly pulled off, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. NPPA general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher was successful in having that charge quickly dismissed by the Manhattan district attorney.

Douglas Higginbotham on the day of his arrest covering an Occupy Wall Street protest at Zuccotti Park in New York City on the morning of November 15, 2011. Photo credit: PaulMartinkaPhotography.com

Higginbotham subsequently brought a federal civil rights lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York against the arresting officers and the City of New York. Among other things, his complaint alleged that “the defendants retaliated against him for filming a violent arrest in violation of his First Amendment rights.” In refusing to grant the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, District Court Judge P. Kevin Castel held (with regard to the question of whether the police officers were protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity), that  “the right to record police activity in public, at least in the case of a journalist who is otherwise unconnected to the events recorded, was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the events alleged in the complaint.”

The matter is now being appealed, following Judge Castel’s grant of a motion for summary judgment by the defendants. “Though we believe the District Court erred in granting summary judgment, we also believe that Judge Castel was correct in recognizing that the press has a First Amendment right to cover police activity, said Jay K. Goldberg, attorney for Mr. Higginbotham. “We urge the Second Circuit to adopt Judge Castel’s reasoning and align this Circuit with all others that have upheld this fundamental right of constitutional protection,” he added.

Attorneys Robert Balin, Abigail Everdell and Jack Browning, of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP drafted the amicus brief with help from NPPA’s Osterreicher. “The fact that more than 60 leading news outlets and free speech organizations have joined the NPPA in this friend of court brief speaks volumes about the importance of the First Amendment rights at stake in this case,” said Balin. “From Ferguson to Occupy Wall Street to tomorrow’s headlines, safeguarding the ability of the press and public to record and  freely discuss police activity in public places is essential to an enlightened, informed democracy. Given the national consensus by other courts, we believe a ruling by the federal appeal court in New York recognizing a First Amendment right to record the police in public is long overdue. We look forward to presenting our arguments.”

Those courts include the First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth and Eleventh Circuits, which have expressly acknowledged the existence of this crucial right. The Second Circuit has yet to find that right as being “clearly established,” which has had a chilling effect on journalists and citizens, while officers who arrest or harass those recording police conduct continue to avoid liability by receiving “qualified immunity” for their actions.

The brief urges the Second Circuit to “recognize—as did the district court—that members of the press unconnected with the underlying events have a clearly established First Amendment right to record officers in public places in furtherance of their free press rights to gather and disseminate news on matters of public concern.” In the alternative, the amici argue, should the Court find “that the right to record the public conduct of police officers was not clearly established . . . at the time of Mr. Higginbotham’s arrest,” it “should nonetheless use this opportunity to declare the right to be clearly established going forward.”

In reflecting on his case, Higginbotham said, “I just want to thank the NPPA for assembling so many media industry leaders, along with an impressive coalition of free speech organizations  in support of my appeal. Now is a very important time for the courts to uphold our constitutional rights,  and send a clear message that a free press must be allowed to go about our invaluable duties, which are enshrined in the First Amendment , without fear of police retaliation, or having our livelihoods destroyed.”

“The attorneys for Davis Wright Tremaine are to be commended for their work on this brief,” said Osterreicher, who has been involved in this case for the last six years. “I believe that Jay [Goldberg] has crafted an excellent appeal, while Rob, Abigail and Jack at DWT have drafted an amicus brief that should help guide the court on this issue. Of course the overwhelming support from so many groups has been very gratifying and we hope the court will take judicial notice of that fact. I would also be remiss if I did not thank Lynn Oberlander and the Press Freedom Litigation Fund of First Look Media Works for their support of Doug’s appeal. Thanks also go to Gregg Leslie at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press for helping to rally support for the brief. Last but by now means least, I must thank Doug Higginbotham, who had to endure his unlawful arrest for just doing his job and for standing up for his, and in turn all of our rights, by pursuing this case.”

The groups joining with the NPPA in the brief are: ABC, Advance Publications, Inc., ALM Media, LLC, the American Society of Journalists and Authors, American Society of News Editors, Associated Press, Association of Alternative Newsmedia, Association of American Publishers, Inc., Association of Magazine Media, The Author’s Guild, Inc., The Buffalo News, Buzzfeed, Inc., Cable News Network, CBS Broadcasting, The Daily Beast Company, LLC, Daily News, LP, Discovery Communications, LLC, Dow Jones & Company, Inc., Electronic Frontier Foundation, The E.W. Scripps Company, First Amendment Coalition, First Amendment Lawyers Association, First Look Media Works, Inc., Fox News Network LLC, Free Press, Freedom of the Press Foundation, The Freedom to Read Foundation, Gannett Co., Inc., Hearst Corporation, Inter American Press Association, Media Coalition Foundation, Media Law Resource Center, Inc., The Media Consortium, Inc., Meredith Corporation dba WFSB-TV, National Association of Broadcasters, National Newspaper Association, National Press Club, National Public Radio, Inc., NBCUniversal Media, LLC, New England First Amendment Coalition, New England Newspaper & Press Association, Inc., New York News Publishers Association, New York Press Club, New York Press, Photographers Association, New York State Broadcasters Association, Inc., The New York Times Company, The News Media Alliance, NYP Holdings, Inc., Online News Association, PEN American Center, Penske Media Corporation, Radio Television Digital News Association, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Reporters Without Borders, Reuters America LLC, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Inc., Society of Professional Journalists, Student Press Law Center, Tully Center for Free Speech, Vermont Press Association, Vox Media and WNYW-TV FOX 5.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Disorderly Conduct, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, Occupy Wall Street, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Photoshop, Police, Recording Police, Regulations limiting photography, retaliation for the exercise of First Amendment rights, Robert Balin, Visual Journalists | No Comments »

NPPA Attorney Obtains Another Dismissal in Cases Against Photojournalists Covering Occupy Protests

February 21st, 2012 by Alicia Calzada and tagged , , , , , , ,

Charges were dismissed last week against a New York City photojournalist arrested while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

NPPA’s general counsel, Mickey H. Osterreicher, was successful in obtaining court dismissal of charges stemming from the arrest last November of NPPA member Douglas Higginbotham while he was covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Charges were dropped “in the interest of justice,” in response to Osterreicher’s motion to dismiss, made on his behalf. Higginbotham was arrested after he stood on top of a phone booth to get a better vantage point of the protest. As he was attempting to get down (after being ordered to do so by police) officers pulled him off his perch and arrested him for disorderly conduct.

NPPA president Sean Elliot said, “I am pleased to see the correct outcome in this case but unfortunately the fact that Mr. Higginbotham was arrested in the first place represents just another example of a disturbing trend in police-press relations.” “I would hope that the NPPA, SPJ and other organizations representing journalists can continue to make headway in educating police officials on how to better work with the media and avoid such incidents as this in the future,” he added.

Ironically, last year while covering a celebration of the death of Osama bin Laden, Higginbotham was helped up onto another nearby phone booth by police and firefighters. “Being a freelancer working in New York for a TV station in New Zealand, I was very concerned and upset after my arrest,” Higginbotham said in an interview. “Knowing that I had NPPA representing me was very reassuring. I am just glad that this episode is over and that the charges were dismissed,” he added.

The Society for Professional Journalists (SPJ) provided financial assistance for his defense. “I’m not surprised by the outcome,” said SPJ President John Ensslin. “I felt Doug had a strong case and I know he had a good lawyer.” “We at SPJ are relieved and happy that this case is over and that Doug can go back to doing what he does without the threat of prosecution hanging over his head.”

Watch video of TV New Zealand story and his arrest

Charges were also dropped in January, against Jennifer Weiss, a freelance video and print journalist who had been working for Agence France-Presse covering the clearing of Zuccotti Park on November 15 of last year. She was attempting to get to the scene, when a police officer singled her out for arrest. She identified herself as a journalist, but was not allowed to call her editor until after she was released and was one of several journalists arrested that day. She had been charged with blocking pedestrian traffic and disorderly conduct and was issued an appearance ticket, which Osterreicher succeeded in having dismissed.  Ms. Weiss said, “Mickey was extremely helpful, accessible and answered all my questions — and ultimately got my charges dismissed ahead of my court date. I’m very grateful to him for the time and effort he put in on my case.”

Also in January, Osterreicher represented Jonathan Foster, an NPPA student member who was charged with trespassing after being arrested covering Occupy Rochester. Prosecutors initially refused to drop the charges, but they were dismissed at a hearing on January 12.

NPPA’s attorney also provided support to counsel for Kristyna Wentz-Graff and the Milwaukee Sentinel, and he exchanged letters with the police department and prosecutors in that case. In the original police report, Wentz-Graff was charged with standing on a roadway and obstructing the issuance of a citation. The video of the incident shows that she was about to step onto the sidewalk from the street when the police yanked her back into the street and arrested her. Police claimed that they didn’t know she was a journalist but the video showed her credential hanging around her neck and clearly visible. Prosecutors decided not to issue a citation, which is the equivalent of dismissing the original charges in Wisconsin, on December 19.

Posted in Disorderly Conduct, First Amendment, First Amendment rights, Fourth Amendment, Fourth Amendment rights, Interest of Justice, National Press Photographers Association, News Photography, Newsgathering, NPPA, NYPD, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street Arrests, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism, Police, Recording Police, video cameras | No Comments »