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SHORT TAKES : Judge Sued for Banning Filming

<i> From Times wire services</i>

New Jersey Chief Justice Robert Wilentz was accused Wednesday of violating the First Amendment and costing Essex County $250,000 when he barred filming of “Bonfire of the Vanities” in the county’s elegant but decaying courthouse.

The American Civil Liberties Union joined Essex County Executive Nicholas Amato in a federal lawsuit challenging Wilentz’ decision.

The old courthouse, a building in such poor condition that judges have narrowly escaped chunks of falling plaster, has been featured in several movies, including two attacks on the judicial system, “The Verdict,” starring Paul Newman as an alcoholic lawyer, and “And Justice for All,” with Al Pacino.

But Wilentz, informed as a courtesy of the county’s plan to allow Warner Brothers to use the courthouse for courtroom scenes from “Bonfire,” said the movie would “erode the confidence of blacks in the judicial system.”

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The disputed scene, now being filmed at a courthouse in the New York City borough of Queens, shows Morgan Freeman as a black judge dismissing charges against Tom Hanks as a white stockbroker accused of killing a black teen-ager in a hit-and-run accident. Wilentz also objected to another sequence, partially filmed in Essex County, that showed black spectators rioting in a corridor outside the courtroom.


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