While we see plenty of lawyers on TV, and there is no shortage of shows about lawyers (new or syndicated), it’s rare to see the TV-court world collide with the real-court world. But in Kahn v. HPD, an attempt to use “testimony” from an episode of “The People’s Court” by an administrative officer did NOT sit well with the New York Supreme Court Justice Francois Rivera**. In relevant part:
“The People’s Court” is not a court, body, agency, public servant or other person authorized by law to conduct a proceeding and to administer the oath or cause it to be administered. It is a television show with a production manager, crew, support staff, editors, and actors. Like any other television show, it is supported by its advertisers and its objective is to entertain its audience. It is also edited to allot time for commercial breaks and to complete the show within a designated broadcast time slot. 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 the these participants are not testimony. They are neither sworn nor reliable. Furthermore, the statements made on the show have no more probative force than the words of an actor reading from a script in a play. The only difference between the two is that the participants of the show may freely ad-lib their lines.
Here, [the administrative hearing officer] gave tremendous weight and probative force to words and statements allegedly uttered by the petitioner on “The People’s Court” television show. He described the utterances as “sworn testimony” and “compelling admissions”. This view of the utterances petitioner allegedly made on the show is irrational. The court uses the adverb allegedly because the DVD submitted, which allegedly contains petitioner’s utterances, does not include a certified transcript of its content. Nor did it contain a certification that it is a true and accurate copy of “The People’s Court” segment that it purports to be.
**In New York, the “Supreme” court is the trial court — the highest court in the state is the Court of Appeals. Cases go from the Supreme court to the Appellate Division, and from the Appellate Division they may be appealed to the Court of Appeals. In this case, the result of an administrative proceeding was being challenged in the trial court.
KAHN v HPD (FULL OPINION)