The Chief

June 9, 2000

 

Judge Backs PBA on Brothel Probe

Can't Bar Trustee

By William Van Auken

PATRICK J. LYNCH: NYPD thumbs legal nose.

The Police Department cannot bar a Patrolmen's Benevolent Association official from representing cops called into the Internal Affairs Bureau interrogation room by claiming he is a potential witness, a Manhattan Supreme Court Justice ruled June 1.

Justice Sheila Abdus-Salaam ruled that "there is merit to the claim" made by the PBA that the department "has committed an unfair practice and violated the collective bargaining agreement" by barring Walter J. Liddy, the union's Manhattan South financial secretary, from representing the cops in connection with an IAB probe into a brothel protection racket in the Midtown South Precinct.

'Stonewall and Shove'

"This ruling shows exactly what we've been saying all along: instead of negotiating, the city tries to stonewall us and then shoves it down our throats," said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. He compared the denial of Mr. Liddy's right to represent union members to the department's attempt to unilaterally designate selected Police Officers to the rank of Detective Specialist as a form of merit pay raises. The union successfully challenged that measure in court as well.

 "We think the way to settle these issues is through negotiations, but they leave us no choice but to go to court," said Mr. Lynch.

The Liddy case stems from the interrogation last December of two Midtown South cops, Officers Michael V. Quinn and James R. Howard. When Mr. Liddy appeared to represent them during the grilling, an IAB Sergeant barred him, claiming he was a potential witness in the brothel probe.

 PBA Smells a Pretext

The PBA charged that this was a pretext aimed at keeping the PBA official out. Yi pointed out that Mr. Liddy was never questioned during a three-year investigation by either the department or the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. The department's probe resulted in 20 police officers being placed on modified duty in July 1998.

Two cops subsequently pled guilty to criminal charges and the two were arrested in connection with the 15-year racket in which some Midtown South officers provided protection for a brothel on W. 35th Street. In return, they were allowed to use an apartment where they hung out during work hours and consorted with prostitutes.

Mr. Liddy, who was a Midtown South PBA delegate before being elected to his financial secretary post, insisted that he had no involvement in the criminal activities and no knowledge of them except for what he learned while advising and representing other cops who were named as either witnesses or subjects of the investigation.

On this basis, the union's attorneys charged, the NYPD could be seeking to force Mr. Liddy to choose between "betraying the confidences of the union members he was elected to represent or refusing to answer questions and suffer the penalty of suspension from the department."

In the course of the proceeding, the judge asked city attorneys whether, if Mr. Liddy were interrogated before the other officers and it was determined he had no knowledge of the alleged misconduct, he would be allowed to represent other cops in the investigation. The answer was no.

"Thus," Justice Abdus-Salaam ruled, "respondents have taken the position that the mere labeling of Liddy as a witness, notwithstanding that he may have no knowledge relevant to the investigation, serves to eliminate him as a representative for union members who seek his counsel."

OCB Took a Pass

Before bringing its Article 78 proceeding to court, the PBA filed an improper practice petition with the city's Office of Collective Bargaining. That body, however, declined to rule on it because of the longstanding absence of labor members on the board.

In handing down a preliminary injunction, the judge barred the department from proceeding with the interrogation of Mr. Liddy or the other Midtown South officers in connection with the brothel probe until the OCB, which recently seated two new labor representatives, can rule on the PBA petition. It further barred the IAB from interrogating the PBA official "concerning his observations and communications with any Police Officer derived from his capacity as a union representative."

Union officials expressed concern that the city could defy the court order. According to a memorandum submitted to the court, after the PBA obtained a temporary restraining order last month, an attorney for the Corporation Counsel's Office advised the union that it intended to go ahead with the interrogations anyway, while claiming it intended to appeal the order.     

After the PBA's attorneys threatened to bring contempt proceedings against the city and the NYPD, the Corporation Counsel's Office retreated, saying it would hold off on any interrogations until the decision on the preliminary injunction.

 After the June 1 ruling, however, a city attorney again informed the union that it intended to invoke a stay of the order and go ahead with the grillings.

"It's a court order and as law-enforcement officials they should know they can't thumb their nose at it," said PBA President Lynch. If IAB again seeks to  interrogate the cops, he said, the union would be back in court to block it.