The U.S. Court of Appeals’ decision to remove District Judge Shira Scheindlin from examining the constitutionality of the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy was “unprecedented and unwarranted,” according to civil rights attorneys who filed an appeal on Monday in the federal appeals court.
The lawyers argued that the three judges who ruled that Scheindlin was unfit to hear the case because of comments she had made defending herself of bias was a poor decision that was “gratuitous and deeply flawed.”
Scheindlin was removed from the case on October 31 after the panel ruled she misapplied a related ruling and gave media interviews during the trial, which the judges said was indicative of bias. When the panel removed Scheindlin, they also temporarily suspended the judge’s orders, which required the NYPD to alter its stop-and-frisk policies.
The civil rights attorneys from the Center of Constitutional Rights asked the court to reconsider Scheindlin’s removal and argued that the three panel judges should not be trusted to hear New York City’s appeal of Scheindlin’s initial ruling in August that declared stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional and violated the rights of minorities.
Specifically, the filing argues that the four plaintiffs in the case, and the “hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers they represent,” have already dealt with issues of substantial prejudice inherent in the stop-and-frisk policy, and the assignment of a new judge unfamiliar with the “complex case” would only exacerbate matters.
Scheindlin had presided over the case for about six years, which included a nine-week trial that had more than 100 witnesses, before she wrote her 198-page opinion that concluded that the stop-and-frisk policy unfairly targeted black and Hispanic men.
“It is not apparent that the panel even considered this potential prejudice” the filing said, arguing that the decision to remove Scheindlin was taken without “even the most basic procedures notice to the parties or the judge, without any request or complaint from the parties and long after the city waived an opportunity to seek removal.”
Monday’s legal appeal was the second filed in the last week regarding Scheindlin’s removal from the case.
Last Wednesday lawyers for Scheindlin filed a motion arguing that the panel “acted with unseemly haste, that they did so on the basis of a skewed reading of the evidence, and that they violated a rule that gives judges accused of misconduct notice and the opportunity to defend themselves.”
Many involved in the case have argued that Scheindlin was the victim of a campaign organized by the city of New York, specifically the Bloomberg administration, since the mayor and police commissioner Ray Kelly continuously attacked Scheindlin throughout the trial through the media and speeches.
Scheindlin has said the Bloomberg administration’s attempts to remove her from the case because she did not side with them, are bringing “character assassination into the judicial process.”
Both Bloomberg and Kelly said that Scheindlin was working with civil liberties activists to end stop-and-frisk and said she was biased against law enforcement.
Her lawyer Burt Neuborne said the city was twisting the panel’s ruling so that the public is under the perception that Scheindlin was biased the entire time throughout the trial.
Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center of Constitutional Rights, agreed that the removal was uncalled for and said it created “a perfect storm of procedural irregularity.”
“The appellate panel cast aspersions upon the professional conduct of one of the most respected members of the federal judiciary – and thus inappropriately cast doubt on her legal rulings – while itself taking an unprecedented step that no party requested, of which no party was notified, and without providing the parties an opportunity to be heard,” Azmy said, adding that the facts show Scheindlin engaged in no unethical conduct and her decision that found the city liable for widespread constitutional violations and racial profiling was based on overwhelming evidence.
Jonathan Moore, an attorney with Beldock Levine and Hoffman LLP and co-counsel in the case, said, “This unprecedented action by the second circuit should not detract from the central issue that has been resolved after six years of litigation: overwhelming evidence has conclusively proven what hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers already know well – that the city’s quota-driven stop-and-frisk program has produced systematic constitutional violations that must be remedied if the NYPD is to win back the trust of our communities.”
Although the Bloomberg administration has argued that all of Scheindlin’s rulings in stop-and-frisk cases should be thrown out since she was dismissed, Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who takes office in January, said he would drop the city’s appeal of Scheindlin’s ruling.