CBS Can Exonerate Client in Art Theft, Lawyer Says

, New York Law Journal

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An accused art thief's attorney wants CBS to produce raw footage of a television series following Brooklyn prosecutors that he says could help his client's defense, but the network is refusing to cooperate.

When "Brooklyn DA" aired last spring, three episodes in a six-part series presented prosecutors building a case against Joselito Vega. The case culminated in Vega's arrest after a sting operation allegedly revealed Vega taking one Pablo Picasso drawing and two other paintings from a Nassau County house without consent from the executor of the underlying estate.

But Vega maintains his innocence and subpoenaed CBS in November for all records pertaining to his case, including "all raw video footage and outtakes." Among other things, Vega says, the footage would corroborate that he had written instructions in his vehicle from the executor instructing the sale. Those instructions have never been found.

CBS asserts the "grossly overbroad" subpoena must be quashed, calling it "a quintessential fishing expedition." The network, which said it amassed 91 hours of videotape in five months of news gathering on the case, claims the unpublished work was squarely within the reporters' privilege, pursuant to Civil Rights Law §79-h­—a privilege Vega could not surmount.

In opposition, Vega called the quash attempt "flawed as it attempts to characterize the materials sought as 'news,' when in fact, this reality TV series arguably does not qualify as legitimate journalism." But even it if was deemed "legitimate news," Vega said he met his burden to compel production.

Vega faces criminal charges in Nassau County and Brooklyn connected to the alleged thefts. The charges include second-degree grand larceny and fourth-degree money laundering.

Vega is represented by Timothy Parlatore of Manhattan. The network is represented by David Schulz and Julia Atcherley of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz.

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