Saturday, January 21, 2012

New York City Accuses US District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis of Bias

New York City accuses Brooklyn judge of bias

1/20/2012COMMENTS (0)

New York City is squaring off against the federal judge who oversaw its years-long litigation with minorityfirefighters, accusing him of bias and a "preoccupation with press coverage."
Throughout the litigation over hiring discrimination, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn "displayed a pervasive propensity to excuse shortcomings" in the firefighters' evidence and "discount, or simply ignore," the city's proof, according to the 137-page brief filed by the city Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
The city is asking the Second Circuit to throw out a sweeping injunction issued by Garaufis last year and order a new trial overseen by a "neutral arbiter."
The lawsuit was filed in 2007 by the U.S. Department of Justice and later joined by a fraternal organization of black firefighters known as the Vulcan Society, and accused the city of systemic discrimination against minorities looking for a job with the New York City Fire Department, or FDNY.
In a series of rulings, Garaufis sided with the plaintiffs and held that, between 1999 and 2007, the department's written examination had "discriminatory effects" on minority applicants.
Following a three-week bench trial in August, he ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee a "long-term top-to-bottom reassessment" of the city's recruitment process of minority firefighters.
The city has appealed the ruling in an attempt to vacate the injunctive relief.
Now, it is making the judge a focal point of its problems with the court's remedy.
"The picture that emerges is that of a court bound and determined to justify closely supervised 'top-to-bottom' injunctive relief," the city wrote in Wednesday's brief.
The city accused Garaufis of inserting himself into the case by calling his own witnesses and injecting his own experiences into the proceedings. He also allegedly goaded the city by appointing former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau -- who has "a long, acrimonious and well-known history of conflict with many city officials directly involved in this case, as well as the city itself" -- as a special master to oversee the city's development of a new firefighter test, according to the brief.
Morgenthau later voluntarily stepped down and was replaced by Debevoise & Plimpton partner and former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Mary Jo White.
But the Morgenthau episode "speaks volumes about the court's lack of detachment," the city wrote. It also pointed out several instances it said were indications that Garaufis was "influenced" by critical statements made by city officials in the press about the case.
"The nature and extent of the foregoing errors, especially the one-sided manner in which the evidence was analyzed, called the district court's impartiality into serious question, as does its preoccupation with press coverage surrounding the case," the city wrote.
Garaufis, through a law clerk, declined to comment on the city's allegations. He was appointed to the federal bench in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
Darius Charney, a senior staff attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights representing the Vulcan Society, said he disagreed with the city's portrayal of Garaufis' conduct.
"We think the judge got it right on the law, and his decision was supported by the facts that were in evidence during the three-week trial in August," Charney said.
The firefighter and government plaintiffs' reply brief is due March 2. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York declined to comment.
The case is U.S. v. City of New York, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. 07-2067.
For the U.S.: Assistant U.S. attorneys Elliot Schachner, Michael Goldberger and David Eskew for the U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of New York; and Eric Bachman, Sharon Seeley, Allan Townsend, Barbara Schwabauer, Jennifer Swedish, Meredith Burrell and Varda Hussain of the U.S. Department of Justice.
For the Vulcan Society: Richard Levy, Dana Lossia and Robert Stroup of Levy Ratner; Anjana Samant and Darius Charney for the Center for Constitutional Rights; and Judith Scolnick of Scott and Scott.
For New York City: Assistant Corporation Counsels Georgia Pestana, William Fraenkel, Edward Sample, James Lemonedes, Kami Barker, Kathleen Comfrey, Patricia Miller and Vivien Ranada.
(Reporting By Jessica Dye)
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