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31 Oct, 2013 20:12

Appeals court blocks ruling against NYC stop-and-frisk policy

Appeals court blocks ruling against NYC stop-and-frisk policy

A US federal appeals court has blocked a previous ruling against New York City’s stop-and-frisk policy. In addition, the judge who made the ruling was removed from the case, the AP reported.

The appeals court alleges Judge Scheindlin “improperly urged plaintiffs’ counsel to file suit as ‘related’ to a 1999 case previously assigned to her and because of certain media interviews,” S.D.N.Y. Blog reported Thursday.

Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled in August the New York Police Department’s policing method was unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Scheindlin found the NYPD’s 4.4 million stops from 2004 to 2012 - of which 80 percent were black or Hispanic individuals who made up more than half of total frisks - were done in violation of the Fourth Amendment and singled out targets for their race, violating the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Second Circuit found Scheindlin violated code of conduct for US judges: “A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities,” and “a judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned….”

The appeals court said Scheindlin compromised her impartiality by her “improper application of the Court’s ‘related case rule’…and by a series of media interviews and public statements purporting to respond publicly to criticism of the District Court.”

Based on these supposed transgressions, the Second Circuit removed Scheindlin from the case.

“Accordingly, we conclude that, in the interest, and appearance, of fair and impartial administration of justice, UPON REMAND, these cases shall be assigned to a different District Judge, chosen randomly under the established practices of the District Court for the Southern District of New York.”

The Second Circuit referenced Scheindlin’s interviews with the New York Law Journal, the Associated Press and The New Yorker - all published in May 2013.

Stop-and-frisk policy in New York existed in some form before current, and outgoing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002. Yet under his tenure, stops increased dramatically to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men.

A lawsuit filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, became a class action case.

Scheindlin’s ruling did not end the practice, but demanded reforms.

“This Court’s mandate is solely to judge the constitutionality of police behavior, not its effectiveness as a law enforcement tool,” she wrote in her August 12 opinion.

New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams responded to the stay order noting the decision does not tarnish Scheindlin’s ruling, nor the legitimacy of the case itself.

“The stay by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals today has absolutely nothing to do with the positive reforms ordered in the lower court's ruling or the merits of the case in Floyd v. New York, including the appointment of a federal monitor to end the abuse of Stop and Frisk by the New York Police Department (NYPD),” Williams said in a statement. “Instead, this stay has everything to do with an individual judge's own conduct, and even that is questionable. When the merits of the case were heard by the lower court, we won. While this stay is frustrating, when the court hears the merits of the case again, there is no doubt that we will win again.”

He went on to mention legislation the council recently passed, overriding a veto by Mayor Bloomberg on the way, that aims to address abuses of stop-and-frisk.

“Even with this stay, the Community Safety Act, of which I was a lead sponsor, will soon be enacted and will help protect New York City residents against the violation of their basic civil right and liberties. It will establish an independent inspector general to oversee the use of Stop and Frisk and enable residents to have violations of Stop and Frisk heard in a court of law.”