Lawyers Blocked From Entering Madison Square Garden By Vindictive Owner Use 1941 Law To Bypass Bullshit Ban
from the if-there's-one-thing-lawyers-know,-it's-laws dept
There are lots of ways facial recognition tech can be misused. Since it’s far from infallible, the most common misuse of the tech is accepting matches as statements of fact. What should be considered, at best, an investigative lead, has instead been used to wrongly arrest people for crimes they didn’t commit.
The private sector has access to the same tech. But it’s not subject to even the minimal guidelines applied to government deployment. Businesses have the right to refuse service to anyone, but even that blanket statement has exceptions.
Even if you have the leeway to ban people from your premises, the question remains whether you should do so, especially when the bans appear to be vindictive. Earlier this month, some New York City lawyers reported they were being blocked from entering venues operated by MSG Entertainment, the company that owns Madison Square Garden and other city entertainment venues. These bans — enforced by MSG’s use of facial recognition tech — prevented a mother from joining her daughter and her Girl Scout troop during a visit to Radio City Music Hall. Another lawyer was booted from a Knicks game at the Garden after being flagged by MSG’s tech.
This entirely new problem could be traced back to MSG’s chief executive, James L. Dolan. Last summer, he instituted a ban affecting lawyers working for firms engaged in litigation against MSG Entertainment. The ban was supposed to prevent adversarial lawyers from engaging in freelance discovery while attending events. The problem was the ban targeted all lawyers at these firms, rather than just those actually engaging in litigation.
These blanket bans are generating even more litigation (which will, of course, generate more bans, etc.). But some enterprising lawyers working for firms shortsightedly targeted by MSG’s bans have found a way to get back into these venues. Unsurprisingly, it involves a law — and a rather old law at that, as Kashmir Hill reports for the New York Times.
In the late 1930s, Leonard Lyons, a columnist for the New York Post, was barred from “30-odd theaters,” he said in a column, because he had written nasty things about the Shubert family, including a story about the theater owners charging a playwright $7 to hang curtains in his dressing room, which the playwright spitefully paid in pennies.
Mr. Lyons, who had a law degree himself according to his son Jeffrey, consulted an A.C.L.U. lawyer, Morris Ernst, who informed him that “the Woollcott decision was binding,” as he later wrote in his column, The Lyons Den. “The law’s against you,” Mr. Ernst said, “unless you change the law.”
And so Mr. Ernst drafted a law guaranteeing anyone over the age of 21 admittance to “legitimate theaters, burlesque theaters, music halls, opera houses, concert halls and circuses,” with exceptions for abusive or offensive behavior, and he and Mr. Lyons persuaded a state representative from Manhattan to push it forward. It was signed into law in April 1941 despite Lee Shubert sending a letter to the governor objecting that it was a “one man” bill, intended to protect Mr. Lyons’s ability “to find some additional material which can form the basis of further attacks on Messrs. Shubert.”
The law stopped entertainment venues from blocking access to critics. The law is still on the books and lawyers affected by the MSG Entertainment ban utilized the 80-year-old law to secure an injunction forbidding these venues from denying them access. The venues can still refuse to sell blacklisted lawyers tickets, but they can’t prevent them from entering if they hold valid tickets. Of course, having an injunction in hand doesn’t mean venue operators or their security teams won’t immediately violate the court order.
After a preliminary injunction was granted in November, Mr. Noren tried to go to a Wizkid concert at Madison Square Garden. Despite bringing a printout of the judge’s order granting the preliminary injunction, he was stopped and turned away by security officials, an encounter he recorded on his smartphone.
You can’t litigate in a venue vestibule, so that means Dolan and his company can continue to score unearned wins. And the application of the law doesn’t mean automatic entry to every event hosted by MSG Entertainment. A carve out for sporting events in the 1941 law means the previously banned lawyers can attend concerts and shows, but can still be legally refused entry to Knicks games.
This whole debacle highlights yet another problematic aspect of facial recognition tech: it can be used to engage in new forms of discrimination, allowing business owners to effectively ban people they just don’t like, whether they’re lawyers working for adversarial law firms, or people who just don’t fit the preferred demographic the venue/store/etc. wishes to attract. Enacting petty bans because tech makes it that much easier to enforce is just going to invite litigation, legislation, and negative press — something no company should welcome or encourage if it wants to remain solvent.