All Eyes on the PBA

February 21, 2014

All eyes will be on the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association following the latest decision in the stop-question-and-frisk lawsuit in New York. The judges who ride the Second Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals this afternoon granted Mayor de Blasio’s motion that the case be remanded to the district court so the city can explore ending its appeal, and the Circuit lifted its stay of Judge Scheindlin’s ruling. But the appeals judges made crystal clear that they are lifting the stay and remanding the matter to the district court only partially and for the clearly limited purposes of exploring a settlement.

The judges also made it clear that the remand was to a new United States district judge, Analisa Torres, whom they mentioned by name. She had been chosen by normal lottery after the Circuit riders cashiered Judge Shira Scheindlin for failing to maintain an appearance of impartiality. The circuit assigned Judge Torres the task of deciding whether the PBA could intervene to defend the cops where Mayor de Blasio won’t. The circuit recognized that question could affect the settlement talks. So in effect, they put a priority on sorting out the PBA’s motion to intervene. The Circuit judges — Jose Cabranes, Barrington Parker, and John Walker — ordered that any appeals shall come back to them.

What we take from today’s order is that this is a triumvirate of judges determined “according to Hoyle,” i.e., going by the book.* The stay they placed on Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, which cast such aspersions on the NYPD during the tenure of Commissioner Kelly, has not been lifted entirely but only to the “the extent necessary to pursue settlement negotiations.” In other words, no budget yet for the police monitor or hard-left academic advisers that Judge Scheindlin was setting up.

As for the settlement talks, the Circuit judges used a phrasing to mark. The remand was for settlement negotiations “among such concerned or interested parties as the District Court deems appropriate.” The panel has already admitted as amici Mayor Giuliani and Attorney General Mukasey, who are out of office but full of experience and wisdom. Mainly we take that phrasing to be an invitation to Judge Torres to include in the settlement negotiations, if she deems appropriate, the PBA and other police unions.

This puts a lot on the shoulders of all the police unions. It is a highly unusual situation when the rank-and-file emerges in a leading role in the fight for the good name of, among others, top management. We don’t mind saying that we find it affecting. It has its own all-American logic. It’s also going to test everyone’s mettle, including that of Judge Torres. In Los Angeles 14 years ago, the police union won the right to intervene in principle, but in a case that was already settled. Here the rank-and-file are suing for a seat at the table. Their heroism in the long war against crime and the practical ways they will be affected by the outcome suggests they more than deserve it.


* Named for the 18th century expert on whist.