Bannister made the correct ruling in jailhouse video case
A recent Buffalo News editorial was extremely and unfairly critical of State Supreme Court Justice Tracey Bannister’s decision denying the News’ attempt to obtain the release of a jailhouse video recording that documents the alleged vicious beating of an inmate by a jailer employed by the City of Buffalo. Justice Bannister is ethically prohibited from responding to such criticism. As an attorney and former leader of the bar, however, I feel an obligation to respond to such unwarranted criticism.
The editorial asserts that Justice Bannister, who is presiding over the civil trial brought by the beating victim against the city, was “bamboozled” and “conned” by Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, was a “coward,” and was attempting to “please influential politicians.” Those assertions are patently untrue.
The editorial fails to note that the attorneys for both parties to the civil action – the plaintiff who was the victim of the alleged beating as well as defendant City of Buffalo – joined together in opposing the News’ request for the release of the inflammatory video prior to trial because of the risk of prejudicing the jury pool. Justice Bannister, after listening to arguments from all parties and in accordance with her responsibility to ensure all litigants their right to a fair and impartial trial, properly balanced the public’s right to know against the litigants’ rights to an impartial jury. In ruling against The News’ request for immediate and unconditional release of the video to the public, the court reasonably ordered that the video could not be released until a jury is empaneled in the underlying civil action.
The News has a right to appeal this ruling. Sadly, however, The News chose instead to publish an editorial that unfairly impugns the integrity of a respected jurist who had the courage to protect the parties’ rights rather than attempting to please an influential daily newspaper.
Stephen R. Lamantia, Esq.