Judges Decline to Reverse Stop-and-Frisk Ruling

November 23, 2013

stopandfriskA federal appeals panel on Friday denied a request by lawyers for New York that it overturn a judge’s sweeping ruling on the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, all but ending the Bloomberg administration’s ability to legally challenge the ruling.

In August, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, found constitutional violations in the practices and imposed remedies, including the appointment of a monitor. Last month, the appeals panel blocked those orders and removed her from the case, saying that by appearing to steer the litigation to her courtroom in 2007 and giving press interviews this past spring while the case was pending, she had compromised “the appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation.”

In a more recent opinion, the panel, of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, said it had not found any misconduct or ethical violation by the judge. But it continued the stay on her ruling while the city appealed it.

The city had sought to have Judge Scheindlin’s ruling vacated, citing questions about her impartiality. But on Friday the appeals court declined the request, effectively saying the appeal process should run its course. The appeals court added that the city could renew its request later as part of the full appeal.

The city’s request appeared to be strategic. While Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg disagrees with Judge Scheindlin’s ruling, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio does not, and has promised to withdraw the appeal when he takes office in January. Ending the appeal would mean that Judge Scheindlin’s order would probably go into effect.

Baher Azmy, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which is handling one of the two lawsuits against the city involved in the appeal, said he was gratified the appellate panel “summarily denied the city’s desperate ploy to vacate the district court’s thorough decision without even briefing on the merits.”

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is handling the other suit against the city, said, “This marks the end of the Bloomberg administration’s effort to short-circuit the appeals process and undo the district court’s rulings before Bill de Blasio takes office.”

Michael A. Cardozo, the city’s corporation counsel, said the order “made it clear that we could raise the issue of vacating her ruling when the appeal is heard.”

“The city is moving ahead full speed with its appeal, and we maintain that the city’s police force has acted lawfully in its application of stop, question and frisk,” Mr. Cardozo added.

Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said the mayor-elect had “been clear: We must move forward on making fundamental reforms to stop-and-frisk. By ending the overuse of this practice, we will make New York safer and begin to repair the relationships between community and police.”

The appeals panel, comprising Judges John M. Walker Jr., José A. Cabranes and Barrington D. Parker Jr., also seemed to invite the parties to seek a return of the cases to the district court “for the purpose of exploring a resolution.” Judge Analisa Torres of Federal District Court is now assigned to the cases.

Mr. Azmy said that he was “open to meaningful discussions with the city,” and that Judge Scheindlin’s remedial order “remains an effective and measured blueprint for achieving lasting reform” of the Police Department.

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling in August found that the police had violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure by stopping, and in some cases frisking, people who were not suspected of any crime, a practice that she also said intentionally discriminated against minorities. The city has argued that the practice is not discriminatory and has been pivotal to fighting crime in high-crime neighborhoods.


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