A Slap in the Fac(ial Recognition)

Going to Madison Square Garden to see the Knicks, Rangers, or Rockettes? If your firm has filed suit against them, you’ll have to hang outside by the hotdog stands. That’s right; you could be barred from attending any MSG, Radio City, or Beacon Theater events.

Wait, what?

MSG’s controversial facial recognition technology has blocked many attorneys from attending the venue, catching patrons by surprise and culminating in lawsuits. In December 2022, Kelly Conlon was barred from chaperoning her daughter’s Girl Scout troop into the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall when facial recognition technology identified her as a member of a law firm involved in litigation against MSG. Her coworker, partner Sam Davis, described his exclusion from attending a Rangers game as “a dystopian, shocking act of repression.” Larry Hutcher, a partner at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron and a Knicks season ticket holder since the 1970s, was blocked from MSG in 2022 — as were the 60 other firm members, even those not involved in the litigation against MSG. Hutcher, who sued MSG for his exclusion warned, "Today it's lawyers. Who is it tomorrow: Dentists, doctors, you as a journalist? Anybody who criticizes Madison Square Garden, they're going to be on the list. So, there's got to be controls. There has to be somebody who says, enough is enough.”

“Ambulance chasers and money grabbers”

MSG has defended itself by refusing to apologize for singling out “ambulance chasers and money grabbers whose business is motivated by self-promotion and who capitalize on the misfortune of others.” The CEO, James L. Dolan, argues that “litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment” and therefore attorneys defending “ticket scalpers who make getting tickets for the average game and concert-goer next to impossible and exorbitantly expensive” should be excluded from MSG. Last week, Dolan explained the attorney exclusion policy: “if you’re suing us, we’re just asking of you—please don’t come until you’re done with your argument with us. And yes, we’re using facial recognition to enforce that.”

Hutcher argued that this “ vindictive act against attorneys” would have a “chilling effect” on attorneys’ willingness to represent parties opposed to MSG. In contrast, MSG lawyer Randy Mastro argued that Hutcher’s suit was “an insult to lawyers who do what we do. Mr. Hutcher has not been chilled in his advocacy.” He has also argued that “a private property owner has a a right to say, ‘I don’t want to do business with people who sue me.’” A NY appeals court upheld MSG’s ability to exclude ticket-holding lawyers from events, overturning the lower court’s preliminary injunction. However, the court stipulated that MSG must pay $500 per person denied from non-sporting events and that MSG is subject to criminal charges from excluded persons. Thus, the New York State Bar Association’s legislative efforts might be New York attorneys’ only hope of seeing the inside of MSG again.

The NY State Bar??

The NYSBA is urging the NY legislature to amend the existing state laws to stop MSG’s use of facial recognition technology to exclude individuals from its venues. The NYSBA specifically hopes for sports venues to be added to the NY Civil Rights Law, as it currently prohibits exclusion of paying customers “public entertainment and amusement” but only covers theaters and music venues as of now. The NYSBA also seeks an increase in fines against companies that violate this law. Further, the Biometric Privacy Act — which was introduced to the NY Assembly in January 2023 — seeks to “require private companies to establish a policy and timeline for permanently destroying biometric information about people who have interacted with the company.”

The Verdict:

Until these legislative changes take effect, MSG might remain a lawyer-free zone.

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