New York Daily News

December 17, 2014, 11:30 AM



Staten Island judge recuses himself from hearing on whether to release grand jury proceedings in Eric Garner case


In a surprising move, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney said his decision was made to avoid a ‘potential appearance of impropriety’ given that his wife, Kathryn Rooney, is the board chairperson of the hospital where Garner was taken after a cop put him in a chokehold, sources said. In addition, a police union head said police unions and Mayor de Blasio need to resolve their dispute stemming from the mayor’s comments involving the Garner case.



The mayor's comments were condemned by Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch said de Blasio had thrown the NYPD 'under the bus' over the mayor revealing talks he had with his biracial son about interacting with police.

The Staten Island judge who swore in the Eric Garner grand jury and was about to hear arguments about making its proceedings public surprisingly recused himself from the case Wednesday.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney explained the decision with a desire to avoid a “potential appearance of impropriety” given that his wife, Kathryn Rooney, is the board chairperson of the hospital where Garner was rushed to after a city cop put him in a chokehold, sources said.

But the anticipated Friday hearing — brought by Public Advocate Letitia James and other groups after the juries declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo — was not the first time the judge dealt with the closely-watched case.

He had a ministerial position during the presentation, though he was never in the grand jury room, and had approved a narrow request by the district attorney to release a few basic details about the panel’s work.

The judge's decision "raises more questions than answers," James said in a statement. "It further underscores the need to release the Grand Jury minutes related to the investigation of Eric Garner's death."

A court official who asked not to be named pointed out that Rooney’s previous dealings with the panel were less than cursory, but “with all the public scrutiny surrounding this case, the judge’s felt it’s appropriate to recuse.”

The jurist’s wife heads the board of Richmond University Medical Center, were Garner was taken five months ago. Some of the EMTs from that hospital had testified in the grand jury.

The application to release all transcripts and evidence will now be heard on a later date in front of a different judge, a source said.

Earlier Wednesday, the mayor and some police union officials were working to mend fences between them.

The head of the NYPD’s Sergeants Benevolent Association ratcheted down the rhetoric between himself and Hizzoner, claiming the insults he’s thrown at Mayor de Blasio weren’t personal attacks — and recommended the mayor and police union heads come together to hash out their differences.

“We’ve seen countries at war for years sit down and come to harmony,” Mullins said at an interview on WPIX Wednesday morning, after citing Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s exclusive commentary in Monday’s Daily News, where he recommended everyone needed to work together.

“We need to come to solutions because it’s the public that is losing right now,” Mullins said.

“It’s the public that is sitting back not knowing what really taking place in the city and who the police department is reflective of.”

In a Fox News interview, Mullins also promised a proposal to improve relations between cops and the citizenry.

“My organization is going to release a couple-point plan that we believe will help resolve a lot of the animosity between the community and the police and hopefully the mayor will pick up on it,” he said.

Mullins’ recommendation was applauded by other NYPD union heads looking to tamp down the tensions between 1 Police Plaza and City Hall.

Roy Richter, the president of the NYPD Captains Endowment Association said he would “strongly support” a roundtable discussion with de Blasio and other union heads.

“The only way you can resolve difference is by communication,” Richter said. “[It] can bring about positive solutions to the many challenges New York City police officers deal with every day.”

The union most critical of de Blasio — the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association — didn’t return calls for comment Wednesday. City Hall did not immediately return a request for comment either.

Union heads and the mayor have been feuding since a grand jury handed down its decision Dec. 3 declining to indict a Staten Island cop in Garner’s chokehold death.

Mullins’ invitation is a complete turnaround from his comments days earlier, when he called de Blasio a “total nincompoop” for using the word “allegedly” to describe an attack on two NYPD lieutenants during a protest on the Brooklyn Bridge Saturday night. Mullins also called for the mayor to leave the city.

In the aftermath of the grand jury’s decision, de Blasio said publicly that he has warned his bi-racial son, Dante, to be wary of the police.

The mayor’s comments were condemned by PBA’s President Patrick Lynch, who said that de Blasio had thrown the NYPD “under the bus.”

The PBA also started circulating a controversial form letter in which cops could ask the mayor and City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito not to attend their funeral if they die in the line of duty.

Mullins said the letters are getting “hundreds of signatures.”

On Wednesday, he said de Blasio shouldn’t take any of his criticisms personally.

“People have to all work together,” he said. “It’s not personal.”

De Blasio fired back at the unions during a taping of “The View” on Tuesday, claiming that police union leaders do not speak for the cops on the beat.

“Police unions, with all due respect to them, do not necessarily speak for the rank and file,” he said. “The rank and file is 35,000 uniformed officers. They keep their own counsel. They have their own ideas, and I respect the work they do.”

He also called the petition that would ban him from cop funerals “inappropriate.”

Protests over Garner’s death continued in the city on Wednesday.

In Brooklyn, about 100 public defenders marched to commemorate the five-month anniversary of Garner's death.

The group staged a "die-in," lying on the sidewalk outside the Criminal Court lockup then marched to the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office, chanting and holding signs.

The absence of lawyers during the demonstration did not result in any court delays, officials said.

With News Wire Services