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NYC Police Stop-and-Frisk Ruling Delayed as Judge Removed

New York City Police
A New York City police officer stands in Times Square in New York. Photographer: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A federal appeals court delayed enforcement of a U.S. judge’s ruling that the New York Police Department’s use of stop-and-frisk tactics is unconstitutional and removed her from the case, saying she appeared biased.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York stayed enforcement of remedies directed by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin in Manhattan, who ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee changes. The appeals court took the extraordinary step of removing Scheindlin from the case.

“We conclude that the district judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges,” the three-judge panel said in yesterday’s ruling. “The appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation was compromised.”

The court cited Schiendlin’s comments in at least three media interviews while her decision was pending, as well as her statements to attorneys in a case involving the NYPD’s tactics that was brought by some of the same lawyers involved in the stop-and-frisk case.

“If you’ve got proof of inappropriate racial profiling in a good constitutional case, why don’t you bring a lawsuit? You can certainly mark it as related,” Scheindlin told lawyers during a December 2007 court hearing.

Related Case

“What I’m trying to say, I am sure I am going to get in trouble for saying it, for $65 you can bring that lawsuit,” she told the lawyers. “As I said before, I would accept it as a related case, which the plaintiff has the power to designate.”

The lawyers later filed the suit, which Scheindlin accepted as related. The appeals panel said its decision shouldn’t be construed as a comment on the merits of the case.

By marking the stop-and-frisk lawsuit as related to the earlier case, Scheindlin was able to steer the new case about NYPD practices to her docket, the appeals court said.

During a court hearing on Oct. 28, Circuit Court Judge Jose Cabranes asked lawyers if they thought Scheindlin had steered the stop-and-frisk case to be assigned to her. Scheindlin’s comments cited by the panel in yesterday’s ruling included interviews with the New Yorker magazine and the Associated Press. She was quoted by the AP in May saying the city engaged in a “below-the-belt” attack on her reputation.

Judge’s Response

In a statement yesterday, Scheindlin said she had sided with the city in a key issue involving the earlier police stop-and-frisk case and said she didn’t steer the new NYPD case to her docket.

She also said she didn’t give statements to the press before issuing her ruling.

“All of the interviews identified by the Second Circuit were conducted under the express condition that I would not comment on the Floyd case,” Scheindlin said. “And I did not. Some of the reporters used quotes from written opinions in Floyd that gave the appearance that I had commented on the case. However, a careful reading of each interview will reveal that no such comments were made.”

Scheindlin’s ruling in the case followed a nine-week nonjury trial that ended May 20.

In that case, four black men sued the city alleging they had been stopped and questioned or frisked by police without reasonable suspicion in violation of their constitutional rights. Police have made more than 4 million such stops in the past nine years, the men alleged. At least 80 percent of the people stopped were black or Latino, according to court papers.

‘Fundamentally Inconsistent’

Scheindlin ruled in August that the stop-and-frisk practice as carried out by the city’s police “is fundamentally inconsistent with the law of equal protection and represents a particularly disconcerting manifestation of indifference.”

Each stop was a “demeaning and humiliating experience,” the judge said.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the plaintiffs, said in an e-mailed statement that it was dismayed by the decision of the appellate judges.

“We are shocked that they cast aspersions on the professional conduct of one of the most respected members of the federal judiciary and reassigned the case,” the group said.

Donna Lieberman, head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which joined in the challenge to the NYPD tactics in the suit, said the group will appeal.

No Overturn

“It’s important to note what the panel did yesterday did not overturn the judge’s ruling,” Lieberman said in a phone interview.

“We’re confident that the next city administration will take steps to fundamentally overhaul the way stop and frisk is utilized by the NYPD,” she said.

Michael Cardozo, the city’s corporation counsel, said in a statement that the ruling will receive a “fresh and independent look” by the appeals court and, if needed, a different trial court judge. Cardozo called Scheindlin’s ruling “unjustified and deeply problematic.”

U.S. District Court Judge Analisa Torres in Manhattan was assigned randomly to preside over the case after the appeals court completes its review of the city’s challenge to Scheindlin’s rulings, according to court records. Torres, who was confirmed for the federal bench in April, served as an acting New York State Supreme Court justice from 2004 to 2011 and as a Civil Court judge for New York City from 2003 to 2004.

Declined Case

The case first reassigned yesterday afternoon to U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl, who without explanation declined to take it, according to court records.

As a state judge presiding over criminal cases, Torres also criticized police tactics in New York City Housing Authority developments.

Torres said in a December 2010 ruling that NYPD officers appeared to be routinely and systematically violating the law by stopping and questioning people without legal justification outside public housing projects. As a result, Torres barred the admission of 29 bags of cocaine that police seized from a man in the lobby of a public housing unit on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.

Stop-and-frisk searches have been a focal point of the campaign to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

de Blasio, Lhota

Democrat Bill de Blasio, the city’s public advocate who is leading in polls in the mayor’s race, said in statement that he was “extremely disappointed” with yesterday’s ruling.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for reforms that both keep our communities safe and obey the Constitution,” de Blasio said. “We have to end the overuse of stop and frisk -- and any delay only means a continued and unnecessary rift between our police and the people they protect.”

Joe Lhota, the Republican nominee, said the ruling was an “unprecedented rejection of both the result of the case and the manner with which it was achieved.”

He said Scheindlin’s “biased conduct corrupted the case and her decision was not based on the facts.”

Scheindlin, who has been on the federal bench since 1994, was reversed by the appeals court after she dismissed perjury charges in 2002 against a Jordanian student who knew two of the hijackers involved in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was accused of lying about one of them.

Scheindlin ruled that the government’s use of the Material Witness Statute to hold the man for questioning during a grand jury investigation was unconstitutional. The appeals court in 2003 reversed and reinstated the charges.

The appeal cases are Ligon v. City of New York, 13-3442, and Floyd v. City of New York, 13-3461, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan). The lower-court cases are Floyd v. City of New York, 08-cv-01034; Ligon v. City of New York 12-cv-02274, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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