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Brooklyn Judge: 'I Know You've Been Sworn ... ' but I Don't Care

Hot on the heels of the Judge Judy profile, TV court is getting some attention from real-life courts. A July 8 opinion out of New York Supreme Court, Kings County (aka Brooklyn) chastised a New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Administrative Hearing Officer for relying in part on a woman's "testimony" from an episode of "The People's Court" in denying her succession rights to her deceased mother's rent-stabilized apartment.

As this article from the New York Law Journal notes, Justice Francois Rivera held that "The People's Court" is not a court at all:

"The show has voluntary participants, who are not actors, who speak about disputes on a stage that resembles a court. The words or statements uttered by these participants are not testimony. They are neither sworn nor reliable."

Now hold on, Justice Rivera. At least in the Wapner days, episodes of TPC began with a shot of the litigants raising their right hands and taking an oath of some sort. And Wikipedia and I both recall that "Judge Wapner would greet his litigants by saying, 'I know you've been sworn. I've read your complaint ... '"

That was good enough for the hearing officer, who noted that the woman fighting to keep her dead mother's apartment at below-market rent, Ellen Kahn, had been sworn in before "testifying" on TPC that she did not live with her mother and only visited her on the weekends, and submitted a DVD containing the relevant episode. But Justice Rivera wasn't persuaded.

"[T]he statements made on the show have no more probative force than the words of an actor reading from a script in a play," Rivera wrote. "The only difference between the two is that the participants of the show may freely ad-lib their lines."

Thus, Rivera remanded the case back to the agency for reconsideration, with the express caveat that the "utterances" Kahn made on TPC are "unsworn and are not testimony."

Kahn's attorney, Lee Nigen, clearly struggled to come up with a grandiose statement for publication, and settled on the following:

"Judge Rivera has handed down a landmark decision that will resound beyond the sound stages of the 'People's Court' and into the tomes of Article 78 case precedent," Nigen said.

I guess that's better than "Justice Rivera says go ahead and lie on 'The People's Court.'" I anxiously await Judge Marilyn Milian's reaction

Posted by Eric Lipman on July 19, 2010 at 10:11 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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