New York Times
November 1, 2014


Unions’ Bid for Role in Stop-and-Frisk Suits Is Rejected by Court

By BENJAMIN WEISER

A federal appeals panel on Friday rejected an effort by several police unions to intervene in two longstanding lawsuits challenging the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk tactics.

The unions had sought to enter the cases last year after a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that the department’s practice of stopping, questioning and often frisking people on the street was unconstitutional, a ruling that the administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg appealed.

After the election of Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had vowed to settle the suits, city lawyers agreed to a deal that essentially put in place a process of reform that had been ordered by the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, which included the appointment of a monitor.

The unions, in seeking to intervene, had argued that Judge Scheindlin’s findings harmed officers’ reputations and threatened the unions’ collective bargaining rights. Judge Scheindlin was later ordered removed from the case by the same appeals panel that ruled on Friday, after it found that some of her actions raised questions about the appearance of impartiality. (The panel ultimately found no “misconduct, actual bias or actual partiality” on her part.) In July, a different district court judge, Analisa Torres, rejected the unions’ motion to intervene.

It was Judge Torres’s decision that was upheld on Friday by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan.

“Granting the unions’ motions in the wake of the November 2013 mayoral election,” the panel said, “would essentially condone a collateral attack on the democratic process and could erode the legitimacy of decisions made by the democratically elected representatives of the people.”

“Allowing intervention at this late juncture,” the panel added, “would prejudice plaintiffs and the city by postponing resolution of this now-settled dispute and frustrating both parties’ desire to promptly engage in agreed-upon reforms.”

The panel, comprising Judges John M. Walker Jr., José A. Cabranes and Barrington D. Parker Jr., sent the case back to Judge Torres, who is to oversee the process of reforms. They will be carried out with the aid of the monitor, Peter L. Zimroth, a former city corporation counsel.

The city’s current corporation counsel, Zachary W. Carter, said in a statement that the panel’s ruling “clears the way for implementation of the remedial measures to which the city agreed.”

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which had sought to intervene, said his group “will continue to monitor actions taken in this process moving forward to ensure that they do not violate” officers’ rights.

The lawyers and legal groups that filed the lawsuits, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the New York Civil Liberties Union and a private lawyer, Jonathan C. Moore, praised the appeals panel’s decision.

“Today’s ruling confirms the unions cannot claim they are harmed by court orders simply requiring them to comply with the Constitution,” said Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling marked, “happily, the beginning of actual reform.”