November 7, 2013

NYPD unions seek role in stop-and-frisk case


Two days after Bill de Blasio's election as New York City mayor, the outgoing Bloomberg administration and four NYPD unions unveiled legal maneuvers Thursday to circumvent his plan to end any city appeal of court-ordered stop-and-frisk reforms.

The city law department said it would ask the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which last week removed U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin from the case, to immediately vacate her ruling -- effectively leaving no court order in place when de Blasio takes office.

In a separate strategy, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and other unions asked the Second Circuit to let them intervene in the case so that they can pursue an appeal next year even if de Blasio wants to work with a monitor named by Scheindlin to oversee reforms.

The unions said in a court filing that the judge unfairly tainted cops by finding that unconstitutional stops are widespread, and the monitor would interfere with their ability to do their jobs and their collective bargaining rights.

"The district court's erroneous rulings might go unreviewed because of Mr. di [sic] Blasio's pledge to dismiss the appeal," the unions said. "A strong public interest supports having this Court review a ruling that burdens the NYPD and its 35,000 members."

Scheindlin, in August, over fierce opposition from City Hall and the NYPD, named a monitor to develop reforms in training, supervision and discipline, and also ordered a pilot project under which some officers would wear cameras to record street encounters.

Last week, a three-judge Second Circuit panel ruled that the judge "ran afoul" of impartiality rules by giving news interviews and maneuvering to get the case in 2007, removing her and staying her orders until the city's appeal is heard in March.

That timetable meant de Blasio would be able to withdraw the appeal next year, leaving the stop-and-frisk ruling in place with a different judge in charge. But the moves by the city and the unions, along with a Wednesday motion by Scheindlin challenging her removal, have left the outcome uncertain.

A de Blasio spokesman declined to comment Thursday. Lawyers for the plaintiffs in the stop-and-frisk litigation, who plan to ask the full Second Circuit to review the three-judge panel's decision, predicted that the union maneuver and the city's tactic would both fail.

"It's a blatant effort to try to take stop-and-frisk reform out of the hands of the incoming administration," said New York Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chris Dunn. "We think that it has no merit and we will oppose it."

A city Law Department spokeswoman said the motion to vacate Scheindlin's order would be filed "early next week" and would be based on the finding that she had violated ethical rules and created an appearance of partiality.

The police unions said that, even if de Blasio doesn't want to appeal, Scheindlin's findings need to be reviewed because they have "chilled lawful and proactive police conduct" and "unfairly undermine public confidence."

A formal role for union members, they said, is needed "for the purposes of vindicating their own rights and ensuring that the district court's flawed injunction . . . will not saddle the NYPD and its members for years to come."