A former Albany-area college student, Christopher Porco brought his case pro se in 2013 while serving 50 years to life for the 2004 attack that left his father dead and mother maimed.
Though the Clinton County Supreme Court initially awarded Porco a temporary restraining order, Lifetime prevailed and aired its movie as scheduled, even managing to incorporate a jab at Porco’s legal attempts. “The Lifetime original movie Chris Porco tried to kill,” the trailer to “Romeo Killer: The Chris Porco Story” says dramatically.
Reversing dismissal of the case this morning, the Appellate Division’s Third Judicial Department said that 33-year-old Porco may be able to show that Lifetime Entertainment Services violated his privacy rights.
At issue is a letter that one of the producers associated with the film sent to Porco’s mother before the film’s release. The producer apparently mentioned that she was also working on a documentary about Porco that she hoped would give the family an opportunity to share their story “in a non-fictional program after the [film] airs.”
Porco says this proves that Lifetime unfairly profited off the unauthorized use of his name by fictionalizing the details of his case.
Writing for a five-judge panel, Justice William McCarthy found dismissal of Porco’s case premature.
“Viewing the producer’s correspondence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and according plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference, it is reasonable to infer that the producer indicated that the film was considered to be a fictitious program,” the ruling states. “Considering the foregoing and the standard of review on a motion to dismiss, we cannot say that plaintiff has failed to sufficiently allege the same degree of fictionalization or the same degree of defendant’s knowledge of such fictionalization as that which has been found to violate the statutory right to privacy without running afoul of constitutional protections of speech.”
The ruling came as a blow to Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case.
Calling today’s decision “a big roadblock” in what should be an easy win for Lifetime, Leslie said he hopes the state’s highest court will conduct a broader reading of the newsworthiness exemption in favor of the television network.
The ruling that dismissed Porco’s case last year faulted the killer for failing to “allege that the movie is so infected with fiction, dramatization or embellishment that it cannot be said to fulfill the purposes of the newsworthiness exception.”
Porco, who is serving his sentence at state maximum-security prison in Clinton County, represented himself on appeal.
David Schulz of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz in Manhattan represented Lifetime. Schulz did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
Eric McCormack, of “Will & Grace” fame, was the biggest star in the Lifetime movie, cast as lead detective in the case.