Ken Burns Blocked: Judge Rules New York City Can't Get Documentary Footage

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On Tuesday, Judge Ronald L. Ellis blocked the city of New York from getting footage filmed by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns.

Burns got the clips in question while researching for his movie about five men who were exonerated in the Central Park jogger rape case.

The Central Park Jogger case involved the assault and rape of Trisha Meili, a female jogger in New York City's Central Park in 1989. Five juvenile males, four of whom were black and one Hispanic, were tried and convicted for the crime. The convictions were later vacated in 2002 when Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist and murderer serving a life sentence for other crimes, claimed to have committed the crime alone and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement.

On April 19, 1989, Meili, a 28-year-old investment banker, was violently assaulted while jogging in New York City's Central Park. She was raped and almost beaten to death. When found about four hours later, she was suffering from severe hypothermia and blood loss from multiple lacerations. Her skull had been fractured so badly that her left eye was removed from its socket. The initial medical prognosis was that she would die or, at best, remain in a permanent coma due to the extent of her injuries. She largely recovered, with some lingering balance and vision problems. As a result, she had no memory of the attack or of any events leading up to an hour before the assault.

A subpoena for Burns’ documentary footage came from a $250 million federal lawsuit filed by the five men against the city nine years ago. The city believed it had a right to see the unused footage that was collected during the making of the documentary, aptly named "The Central Park Five."

Ken Burns and Florentine Films contended that they "have not forfeited [their] journalistic integrity any more than any author or columnist or filmmaker who espouses a point-of-view about a story he or she is reporting."

Judge Ronald L. Ellis found that Florentine had "established its independence in the making of the film" and is entitled to the journalistic privilege of the first amendment.

Burns said that the decision "adds a layer of important protection to journalists and filmmakers everywhere."

New York City lawyers issued a statement on the decision saying, "while journalistic privilege under the law is very important, we firmly believe it did not apply here. This film is a one-sided advocacy piece that depicts the plaintiffs' version of events as undisputed fact. It is our view that we should be able to view the complete interviews, not just those portions that the filmmakers chose to include."