by John A. Eterno
Her integrity has been unfairly smeared in the wake of the stop-and-frisk ruling
Last Thursday, three federal appeals court judges removed Judge Shira Scheindlin
from the well- known stop-and-frisk case, Floyd vs. City of New York.
They need to more closely examine the facts. Their two-page opinion does justice neither to this judge nor to the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers negatively impacted by the NYPD’s practices.
The appeals panel based its momentous decision on the supposed fact that Scheindlin improperly had the Floyd case steered to her — as though that was evidence of her partiality from the start.
That’s flat wrong. In the precursor to the Floyd case — Daniels vs. City of New York — Scheindlin presided over a 2003 settlement on stop-and-frisk. That agreement offered the city an opportunity to reform its practices and avoid extensive litigation and a trial. It included a few reforms and some reporting requirements.
As time went on, well into Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s tenure, it became all too obvious that the city was engaged in practices that violated the previous agreement.
When the Center for Constitutional Rights returned to court, Scheindlin refused to find the city in contempt and instead agreed with the city’s argument that a new case needed to be filed.
The new case, Floyd, was marked as related — which it clearly is. Neither the city nor the plaintiffs had a problem with this at the time. Indeed, it was a ruling favorable to the city, forcing the plaintiffs to create an entirely new case.
Evidence in the Floyd case clearly demonstrated that the city violated the constitutional rights of thousands. When the city confronted the mass of opposing evidence, it tried character assassination of the judge. For example, it dug up Scheindlin’s old cases and did some superficial analysis claiming she is biased; Mayor Bloomberg’s office then passed this information on to the media, which published articles unfavorable to her. These attacks on Scheindlin represented an attempt either to influence her or, more likely, to undermine her ruling before it was even issued.
Perversely, however, the appeals court went on to cite the articles as evidence of the judge’s inappropriate conduct. Perhaps the appellate judges should ask Scheindlin what happened before they impugn her ethics.
Indeed, in the articles cited by the judges, Scheindlin never discussed the case itself, only the administration’s efforts to question her integrity . Quotes that appear to be about Floyd were actually pulled from her prior written decisions in the case.
So if anything, it is the city — not the judge — that tried to influence the case through the media. Castigating Scheindlin is a case of blaming the victim. What’s more, no party ever requested that she be dismissed from the case. The city merely requested a stay — to stop the remedy process until the appeal was heard.
The nearly unprecedented action by the appeals court of removing a judge after she has issued her ruling is judicial activism at its worst. It is a repulsive miscarriage of justice.
Media attacks on critics of the NYPD are not new for the city. I and my colleague Eli Silverman have been victims of similar attempts at character assassination after our research on crime report manipulation went public.
Several editorials and Op-Eds attacked us, including one written by Kelly in the Daily News. Other NYPD whistleblowers — such as Adrian Schoolcraft, Robert Borrelli and Adil Polanco — have also been punished for revealing the truth. This attempt to control debate won’t succeed. Ultimately, the evidence on stop-and-frisk, just like that about crime report manipulation, is so overwhelming that one cannot deny the facts.
Scheindlin was doing her job. If the appeals court felt a need to replace this judge, they should at least base their decision on facts. Without doing so, they appear to have been manipulated by the city’s whisper campaign. They appear to be three blind mice.
Eterno, a retired NYPD captain, is a professor and associate dean at Molloy College, and co-author of “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation.”