Whistleblower former police officer Adrian Schoolcraft has been suing the City of New York and the NYPD since 2010. That was two years after he began secretly recording his bosses at the 81st Precinct as they illegally ordered their subordinates to manipulate crime data and meet certain quotas of arrests and stop-and-frisks. That staggering police misconduct was, of course, the subject of former Voice reporter Graham Rayman’s “The NYPD Tapes,” which detailed not just Schoolcraft’s recordings, but the NYPD brass’s reaction to them: on Halloween 2009, Schoolcraft was dragged from his house and involuntarily committed to Jamaica Hospital’s psychiatric ward, where he remained for six days.
Schoolcraft sued the city in federal court, alleging that the hospitalization violated his civil rights and was nothing more than retaliation for his whistleblowing. In December, lawyers for the city subpoenaed Schoolcraft’s tapes from Rayman, also asking for his notes, correspondence, emails and other reporting materials.
“I have no intention of cooperating,” Rayman told the New York Times at the time, adding that submitting to such a subpoena would be “malpractice” for a journalist and would have “a chilling effect on what all journalists do.”
In a ruling issued yesterday, U.S. Southern District Court Judge Ronald Sweet ruled that Rayman doesn’t have to turn over much of his reporting material. Although the city will get access to some non-confidential materials, they won’t get Schoolcraft’s tapes.
The city’s attorneys had requested 23 different types of records from Rayman, including written statements by Schoolcraft, emails to Rayman and Schoolcraft’s recordings. Rayman’s attorney, Dave Korzenik (who has frequently represented the Voice on legal matters over the years), refused, citing not just reporter’s privilege, but pointing out that many of the requests were vague or overly broad.
In his ruling, Judge Sweet upheld Rayman’s journalistic privilege, writing, “the Subpoena Requests were made without particularity and essentially seek widespread access to all of Rayman’s files. Wholesale exposure of press files to litigation scrutiny is an impermissible burden… and the motion is denied with respect to these requests.”
However, the judge did grant access to a ten-page, single-spaced document Schoolcraft wrote about his involuntary commitment at Jamaica Hospital. The city attorneys believe Schoolcraft gave that document to Rayman. In a deposition, Rayman said he had looked for that document in his files and been unable to locate it. Should it turn up, the judge wrote, it will have to be turned over, given that it “speaks directly to events at the hospital.”
The judge also ruled that emails from Schoolcraft and his father Larry to Rayman must be turned over, as well as a document Schoolcraft evidently wrote detailing what is referred to in court filings as “NYPD misconduct.” It’s not clear what that document contains. The city believes Rayman is the only person with a copy of that document.
Rayman’s attorney Dave Korzenik says he’s pleased with the ruling: “The court really rendered a very fair, thoughtful, decision that I think adds strength, ultimately, to the reporter’s privilege.”
Ultimatley, Korzenik adds, Rayman resisted the city’s subpoena because he wanted to ensure that the principle of reporter’s privilege is secure, not just for him, but for all journalists. “He wanted to make sure the reporter’s privilege was taken seriously by the city and strengthened,” he says. “And that ineed is what happened. It was taken seriously by the court and the decision, I think, gives an added to clarity to what the privilege does, that the city couldn’t just sift through his papers. We got the kind of serious, helpful, and thoughtful decision that we were hoping for.”
It doesn’t appear that Rayman will be called to testify in the lawsuit.
The full ruling from Judge Sweet is on below.