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Press temporarily barred from Nassau County courtroom

Judge Edward McCarty presides over a case at the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court. (File Photo)
Judge Edward McCarty presides over a case at the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court. (File Photo)
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

Members of the media were temporarily barred from a Nassau County courtroom on Friday because, according to a court official, the widow of a high-profile fashion designer wanted “privacy.”

Marianne Nestor Cassini was summoned to testify at a hearing at the Nassau County Surrogate’s Court after a judge suspended her as the executor of her late husband’s estate – valued at more than $50 million. After the judge called a break for lunch, news reporters were told they were prohibited from reentering the courtroom, even though Nestor Cassini, her sister, Peggy Nestor, and attorneys involved in the case remained inside.

“Members of the media are asked to stay outside,” a surrogate’s court employee told reporters, because, he said, Nestor Cassini and her lawyers wanted “privacy.”

State court officials have repeatedly maintained that court proceedings are open to the public and cited no reason Friday why reporters should have been prevented from entering the courtroom while others were allowed inside.

When asked why Nestor Cassini and her sister were permitted to remain in the courtroom, the employee said: “I don’t know about that … The judge gave them an accommodation. That’s what we do here.”

As lawyers in the case were bringing take-out into the courtroom, a court clerk said the judge would need to make a ruling on whether reporters would be allowed back in the courtroom during the lunch break.

After repeated calls to a court system spokesman, the clerk returned – more than 45 minutes after the lunch break began – and told reporters they would be allowed to come into the courtroom. Nassau County Surrogate’s Court Judge Edward McCarty did not address the issue when he returned to the bench.

In a statement, Nassau County court spokesman Dan Bagnuola said: “The Courts’ priorities are fairness and transparency. When we were notified this afternoon that there was a question regarding access to a courtroom, we worked quickly and appropriately to resolve the issue.”

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