September 28, 2010

Tape recording public meetings

Tape recording public meetings
Schuldiner v City Univ. of NY, NYS Sup. Ct., Index No. 8236/98, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports; referred to in Perez v City University of New York, 195 Misc.2d 16]

Sometime an individual may appear at a public hearing, tape recorder in hand. May an entity subject to the Open Meetings Law prohibit observers from tape-recording a public meeting conducted by the entity?

This was one of the questions raised by Schuldiner after the College of Staten Island Association voted to prohibit observers from tape-recording two of its meetings. Barred from tape-recording at both public meetings held by the Association, Schuldiner sued.

New York State Supreme Court Justice Peter P. Cusick, citing Smith v. City University of New York, 92 NY2d 707, first pointed out that the Association was a “public body” as defined by Section 102(2) of the Public Officers Law and an “agency” as defined by Section 86(3) of that law.* Accordingly, it was subject to both the Open Meetings Law and the Freedom of Information Law.

Considering the Court of Appeals’ conclusion that an entity such as the College of Staten Island Association was a “public body” within the meaning of the Open Meetings Law, Justice Cusick decided that the Association’s blanket prohibition against the use of audio tape recordings of its public meetings violated the public policy embodied in the Public Officers Law.

Citing Mitchell v. Board of Education, 113 AD2d 924, as authority for his determination, Justice Cusick said that the Association’s votes to bar tape recordings of its February 25, 1998 and March 11, 1998 meetings also violated the State’s Open Meetings Law and declared them to be void.

Schuldiner also won an order preventing the Association from prohibiting the use of hand-held tape recorders by persons attending future meetings of the Association.

Holding that the Association’s reliance on the First Department’s ruling in Smith in 1998 to the effect that such an association was not a “public entity” as authority to bar the tape recording of its meetings was reasonable as the Court of Appeals had not yet ruled on the issue, Justice Cusick rejected Schuldiner’s request for attorney fees and costs pursuant to Public Officers Law Section 89(4)(c).

* In Smith, the Court of Appeals, reversing a 1998 ruling by the Appellate Division, First Department, held that college associations such as the College of Staten Island Association were public bodies and thus subject to the Open Meetings Law.
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