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ECBA Obtains Class Certification for Challenge to NYC’s Policy of Detaining Immigrants

The Bronx Supreme Court granted ECBA’s motion for class certification of a case challenging New York City’s practice of imprisoning people at Rikers Island based on requests by federal immigration authorities prior to December 21, 2012. The case, Onadia v. City of New York, 0300340/2010, alleges that the City had no basis to imprison the thousands of class members who were held for days and even weeks past their scheduled release date based on these immigration requests. For more information see the New York Law Journal’s coverage; you can also read the decision here. The class is represented by ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Debbie Greenberger and co-counsel Ameer Benno.

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Bronx Defenders honors ECBA and Morrison & Foerster as Pro Bono Partners of the Year

Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, along with Morrison & Foerster, have been named as the Bronx Defenders’ Pro Bono Partners of the Year for their work to end court delays in the Bronx Criminal Court.  You can read more about the class action lawsuit, Trowbridge v. Cuomo, here.

 

 

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Class Action Leads to End of Tampon Tax in New York State

Five months after five women filed a groundbreaking class action suit to end the Tampon Tax in New York, Governor Cuomo has signed legislation ending the illegal tax.

“We are thrilled New York State is finally repealing this discriminatory tax on all ‘menstruators’ and hope the nation will swiftly follow suit. It’s about time we all recognize the necessity of menstruation products and the obsolescence of their taxation,” said Plaintiff Margo Seibert, an actress in New York.

“Albany has finally seen the light! There’s more work to be done to ease access to these vital products, particularly for low income women, but repealing the tax was a great first step,” said Plaintiff Jennifer Moore, a children’s program coordinator.

“One state down, thirty-nine to go,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel for the plaintiffs. “This is a tremendous victory for women and for all New Yorkers. It will save women tens of millions of dollars. This lawsuit jumpstarted Albany into action. It’s the beginning of the end of the Tampon Tax in this country.”

“New York has finally stopped taxing women for being women. Now the governor should make sure that New York women who paid this sexist tax for years—especially those women who could least afford it—are compensated and reimbursed,” said Zoe Salzman, another lawyer for the women.

“From the time I entered law school 25 years ago, I’ve known that the tampon tax violated state and federal law. It’s a remnant of a time when all-male legislatures made decisions that devalued women’s interests. That New York State has finally ended this injustice is great cause for celebration,” said Laura Strausfeld, a lawyer who developed a critical theory of the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs.

The five women who brought the case are an actor/co-founder of Racket., a mathematician/data scientist, a programs coordinator for children’s programs, a photographer, and a professor.

The plaintiffs congratulate Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal for her leadership on this issue.

Follow the latest developments HERE. Read an interview with Zoe Salzman on the case and legislation here.

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Judge Approves $60 Million Settlement in Debt Collection Suit

A federal court approved the settlement on behalf of  New Yorkers who alleged fraudulent debt collection practices.  The $60 million settlement in the case, captioned Sykes v. Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, No. 09 Civ. 8486 (S.D.N.Y), is  the largest ever of its kind.  The settlement should also lead to the unprecedented vacating of approximately 195,000 court judgments and result in the forgiveness of over $1 billion in alleged debt. Plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleged that that Defendants used fraudulent practices to file debt collection lawsuits, obtain default judgments, and then collect on those judgments.

Judge Denny Chin found that the settlement is a “remarkable resolution” to “hard fought litigation” that will bring “extraordinarily meaningful benefits to tens of thousands of individuals.”  He concludes that the settlement will have an “immediate and enormously positive impact on the lives of many.”

The class is represented by ECBA attorneys, Matthew Brinckerhoff, Debbie GreenbergerElizabeth Saylor, and Jonathan Abady,  along with co-counsel MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project.   Read more about the settlement in coverage by the New York Times, the Nation, the NY Law Journal, the NY Post, the Democrat & Chronicle, the Daily News and NY 1.

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Groundbreaking Court Delay Case in the Press

On May 10, 2016, along with the Bronx Defenders and Morrison & Foerster LLP, ECBA filed a federal class action to end the massive delays in misdemeanor cases in the Bronx Criminal Court. The groundbreaking suit alleges that the systematic delays violate the constitutional speedy trial and due process rights of thousands of people facing misdemeanor charges in the Bronx.

The case has garnered local, national and international press coverage. Read about the case in the New York Times, CNN.com, New York Daily News and Reuters. The New York Times Editorial Board published an op-ed calling for the transformation of “the dysfunctional culture that has long plagued the justice system, and the citizens, of the Bronx.”

Listen to an interview with Ilann Maazel on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show.  ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Doug Lieb are also working on the case.

 

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New Class Action Challenges Unconstitutional Delay in Bronx Criminal Court

This morning, four people filed a federal class action to end massive delays in misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court.  The suit, Trowbridge v. Cuomo, alleges that systemic delay violates the constitutional speedy trial and due process rights of thousands of people facing misdemeanor charges in the Bronx.

It now takes an average of 827 days to get a misdemeanor jury trial in Bronx Criminal Court.  In 2015, there were more than 45,000 misdemeanor arraignments in the Bronx, but fewer than 100 trials.

The Bronx has fewer misdemeanor case filings than Brooklyn or Manhattan, but more year-old misdemeanor cases than every other borough combined.

ECBA attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Ilann M. Maazel, and Doug Lieb represent the plaintiffs, along with lead counsel The Bronx Defenders and the firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP.  For more information, see the press release here.

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ECBA Settles Metropolitan Museum of Art Case

A settlement has been reached in a 2013 case brought by ECBA against the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The case, Saska et al v. Metropolitan Museum of Art, challenged the Museum’s practice of charging admission fees to visitors and failing to disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy. The class action suit alleged that the Museum’s signage and online advertising mislead visitors into paying the full advertised “price” for admission to the Museum, when, in fact, the Museum’s policy is to allow visitors to pay as much or as little as they wish.

Under the settlement, which is subject to court approval, the Museum will revise its signage and online advertising to prominently describe the admission fees as “SUGGESTED” and to include the legend: “THE AMOUNT YOU PAY IS UP TO YOU.” In addition, the Museum will require third-party sellers of admission tickets to disclose the Museum’s “pay what you wish” policy, and it will direct cashiers and other Museum employees interacting with the public to explain the “pay what you wish” policy to visitors to avoid any confusion. ECBA’s Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, David Lebowitz, and Ted Oxholm handled the case. The lawsuit and the settlement received extensive press coverage.

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Pressure Mounts to End the Tampon Tax in New York

In response to a class action lawsuit filed last week by ECBA, pressure is mounting to end the Tampon Tax in New York State. The lawsuit has received extensive international, national and local press coverage, including articles in The GuardianCNN, Reuters,  Newsweek, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, New York Daily News, abc7NY, CBS News and Vogue.com.

The five women who brought the lawsuit are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, and Zoe Salzman.

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ECBA Files Class Action to End Tampon Tax in New York

This morning, five women filed a groundbreaking class action suit to end the Tampon Tax in New York.  The suit also seeks refunds for millions of women targeted by the illegal sales tax.

The five women are an actor/co-founder of Racket., a mathematician/data scientist, a programs coordinator for children’s programs, a photographer, and a professor.

New York exempts medical items from sales tax.  But taxing authorities impose a double standard when defining medical items for women and men.  Rogaine, foot powder, dandruff shampoo, chapstick, facial wash, adult diapers, and incontinence pads are not taxed.  Tampons and sanitary pads are.

“It’s time for New York to stop taxing women for being women,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “We hope this case will be the beginning of the end of the Tampon Tax in this country.”

“Tampons and sanitary pads are a necessity for women, not a luxury.  There is no way these products would be taxed if men had to use them,” said Zoe Salzman, another lawyer for the women.

 

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Ilann M. Maazel: A Constitutional Checklist — How Do We Fight Terrorists Without Sacrificing Our Civil Rights?

By Ilann M. Maazel
This blog post was originally published on www.law.com.

In the wake of the Paris attacks, once again we debate how to preserve liberty in a time of terror. The CIA Director demands more surveillance. Some Republican presidential candidates propose to shut down mosques or impose religious litmus tests on refugees. With the proliferation of weapons, social media, and sociopaths, the danger over the next decades will only increase. How do we fight terrorists without sacrificing civil rights? Here is a constitutional checklist of what we can and cannot do:

What We Cannot Do

Religious Profiling: Even if every terrorist in the world were Muslim (many, of course, are not—remember Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, Anders Breivik), over 99% of Muslims are not terrorists. That’s over 1.5 billion people no more responsible for the horrors of Paris, Madrid, or 9/11 than Mother Teresa. It is easy to support profiling when you are not in the group being profiled. Closing down mosques, or targeting people based on religious belief, would not only violate the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, but also alienate millions of law-abiding Americans.

Mass Surveillance: After 9/11, Presidents Bush and Obama authorized the NSA to spy on millions of Americans. Edward Snowden revealed the phone metadata program, in which the NSA tracks billions of phone calls made by hundreds of millions of Americans. The NSA also intercepts the content of millions of domestic communications. (Nine years ago, I filed a still-pending class action lawsuit to stop that program.) There is little evidence that turning the awesome spying apparatus of the NSA on the American people prevents terrorism. But even if spying on 300 million Americans unearthed some terrorist somewhere, what is the cost? The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from rummaging through our files, records, emails, texts, and calls without good cause and a judicial warrant. American independence—John Adams famously declared—was itself born of arbitrary general searches by the British. To those who would sacrifice privacy rights because they have “nothing to hide,” should we sacrifice the right to free speech because some have “nothing to say”? Privacy matters. Let’s not hand Big Brother the keys to our innermost thoughts, most intimate conversations, and every last click on our computer.

Denying Access to Justice: Citing national security, courts have repeatedly dismissed legal challenges to alleged kidnapping, detention, and even torture by the United States government. Just last month, a Washington, D.C. appeals court ruled that Amir Meshal, an American wrongfully kidnapped and imprisoned abroad by the FBI, had no legal right to sue the federal government. These cases are troubling. When the United States government brutalizes innocent people, the government has to be accountable. Without accountability, the rule of law means nothing.

Torture violates the Constitution and international law. It is a major recruiting tool for our enemies. And it doesn’t work. As John McCain put it, torture victims “will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say.” Banning torture is legally required and good policy.

What We Can Do

Declare War: Every nation has the right to defend itself. But under the Constitution, only Congress has the “power . . . to declare war.”  If we are fighting a war against ISIS, Congress must vote and say so.

Kill American Terrorists on the Battlefield: The government has the right to target American terrorist leaders, in enemy territory, actively engaged in a war against the United States. Accused terrorists captured on American soil—Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for example—are constitutionally entitled to due process: lawyers, juries, the presumption of innocence. But nothing in the Constitution requires American soldiers to risk their lives to capture an alleged terrorist in Yemen or Afghanistan.

Targeted Spying of potential terrorists, with probable cause and a warrant, is legal and effective. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court exists to issue these warrants.

Control the Border: We are a proud nation of immigrants, but nothing in the Constitution prevents us from securing our borders and screening visitors—refugees, students, tourists, anyone—with a fine-tooth comb.

Work With Communities to Root Out Terrorists: Law enforcement can and should work with religious leaders to root out radicals and terrorists. But if a leader spews hate and advocates violence, that provides a legal basis to go undercover, infiltrate, and look for potential terrorists.

Presidents often say their first responsibility is to protect the nation. But the President-elect takes an oath to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” The Constitution, not the country. The Constitution created the presidency, the Congress, the courts, and the United States itself. In a nation built on principles—not ethnicity, race, creed, or even culture—the Constitution remains our North Star.

It is possible to preserve constitutional rights and fight terror at the same time. We have to. If we sacrifice American ideals, who will we become? That is a question I hope we never have to answer.

This article was first published on the Law.com Network on November 24, 2015

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