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'Character assassination': Lawyer for ejected stop-and-frisk judge blasts NYC motion

U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin is interviewed in her federal court chambers, in New York, in May.
U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin is interviewed in her federal court chambers, in New York, in May.Richard Drew / AP file

A lawyer for the federal judge ousted from all cases involving New York City Police Department's controversial stop-and-frisk tactic is sharply criticizing the city's move to have her orders thrown out.

The attorney on Sunday called New York City's request to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's orders — which mandated major changes to the hot-button policy — "character assassination."

Scheindlin had ruled Aug. 12 that NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic amounted to "indirect racial profiling" and as implemented violates the constitutional rights of blacks and Hispanics — groups that make up 80 percent of the police stops. She cited the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and the 14th Amendment guarantee of equal protection under the law.

She appointed an outside lawyer to oversee changes to the program and ordered a test in which officers would wear cameras in one precinct in each of New York’s five boroughs to record their encounters with civilians.

But an appeals court delayed the judge's orders and pulled her off all relevant cases on Oct. 31, ruling she compromised the appearance of impartiality by encouraging a class-action lawsuit over the stop-and-frisk tactic and by giving media interviews in which she answered critics of her ruling.

“Upon review of the record in these cases, we conclude that the District Judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, Canon 2 ('A judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of  impropriety in all activities.'),” the appeals court wrote. (Read the order here.)

City lawyers, in their request Saturday, said Scheindlin’s conduct offered, at minimum, justification to question her legal impartiality and, at maximum, a violation of the city’s due process rights, according to The Associated Press.

But Scheindlin's attorney, Burt Neuborne, told AP on Sunday that the city's motion is a bid to change the panel's ruling.

"At worst, the panel accused the judge of conduct that might cause the appearance of lack of neutrality," Neuborne said in a statement provided to the wire service. "The panel did not even suggest that the district judge was actually biased."

The appeals court order leveled harsh criticism at Scheindlin.

It concluded that she improperly told lawyers involved in a similar lawsuit: "[I]f you got proof of inappropriate racial profiling in a good constitutional case, why don't you bring a lawsuit? ... [W]hat I am trying to say, I am sure I am going to get in trouble for saying it, for $65 you can bring that lawsuit." 

The appeals court also said she improperly made comments in three interviews responding to criticism of her ruling in the stop-and-frisk case.

She told the Associated Press, speaking of the city government, "I know I'm not their favorite judge."

She also told the New York Law Journal that many judges are reluctant to issue controversial rulings: "They are fearful or they want a promotion or whatever it is."

Scheindlin also provided statements to The New Yorker magazine, which published a profile of her in May.

The Oct. 31 order also took the highly unusual step of assigning the case to a different district court judge while the appeals court decides on the next move. 

Jonathan Dienst, Pete Williams and Jeff Black of NBC News, as well as the Associated Press, contributed to this report.


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