The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and ECBA today urged the New York City Department of Education (DOE) in a letter to end its investigation into the free speech activities of the Park Slope Collegiate School principal Jill Bloomberg. The DOE is investigating the principal, vice principal, two teachers, and an aid for allegedly being members of the Progressive Labor Party and for recruiting students to the PLP and to PLP events. The principal alleges that the investigation is in retaliation for her repeated complaints to DOE about the discriminatory allocation of sports teams. The letter explains that principals and teachers do not lose their right to free speech just because they work at a school. Investigators have pulled students out of class to interrogate them without informing parents. Students were asked whether their teachers were communists and were questioned about whether they or their parents had gone to political rallies or meetings. “Investigating students’ and teachers’ political beliefs is offensive and unconstitutional, regardless of what those beliefs are,” said ECBA partner Elizabeth S. Saylor, who is representing the parents of a middle school student interrogated without parental consent. “This kind of knock-off McCarthyism is entirely inappropriate. The out-of-control investigation has made students afraid to speak out against segregation and inequality in their schools. This unconstitutional investigation must stop now.”
To read the letter, click here. To read New York Daily News coverage, click here.
Public Justice has announced that the attorneys for Sykes v. Mel S. Harris & Associates, LLC are finalists for the organization’s 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year Award. ECBA co-counseled with MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project to bring a federal class action challenging a fraudulent debt collection scheme.
Under the settlement negotiated by the legal team after six years of hard-fought litigation, the defendants paid nearly $60 million to class members. They also agreed to exit the debt collection business and to extinguish all outstanding consumer debt that was part of the scheme, which had a total face value of over $1 billion. In a cutting edge component of the settlement, the defendants also agreed to cooperate with a supplementary state court proceeding to vacate the default judgments en masse and, as a result, nearly 200,000 fraudulently-obtained default judgments have been vacated. More on the case and the settlement is available here.
On behalf of clients The City Club of New York, Robert Buchanan, and Tom Fox, ECBA won a victory in federal district court against “Pier 55,” a proposed island performance venue in the Hudson River in Manhattan. The court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was wrong to issue a permit for the project under the Clean Water Act because the project did not need to be built in a waterway to achieve its most important goals. Construction has now been halted. The court’s decision was covered by the New York Times, New York Daily News, and Curbed, among others. ECBA lawyers Richard Emery, Elizabeth Saylor, and Doug Lieb represent the City Club and the other petitioners. Read more about ECBA’s work on this project here and here.
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady filed an amicus brief on behalf of four veterans organizations, Vets for American Ideals, Vote Vets, Common Defense, and No One Left Behind. The brief was filed in the pending case Darweesh, et al. v. Trump, et al. (E.D.N.Y.), which challenges President Trump’s Executive Order banning immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations. Based on their experience fighting on the front lines against ISIS and other U.S. enemies, these veterans argue that the ban is contrary to the American ideals they fought for, will make it more difficult for their fellow American soldiers to recruit essential local allies in Iraq and in other Muslim countries, and will be a powerful propaganda tool for our enemies that will make the work of deployed American soldiers more difficult and more dangerous. The brief was written by ECBA partners Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and Zoe Salzman.
In the first ever legal effort to challenge election results in multiple jurisdictions for a Presidential contest in the United States, ECBA is representing Jill Stein and her campaign in election integrity efforts and attempts to obtain recounts in three states: Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Stein filed petitions for recount in Michigan and Wisconsin, and mobilized voters to seek recounts in Pennsylvania. ECBA has litigated various state and federal actions to pursue those recount requests. The most recent information and filings concerning the rapidly-changing developments in the three states are available here for Pennsylvania, here for Michigan, and here for Wisconsin.
In January 2016 Jaime DeJesus, who was serving a 20-year sentence for assault in the first degree, had his conviction overturned by the First Department appellate court. At the request of his appellate attorneys, who believed in his innocence, ECBA agreed to handle his retrial. After a five-week trial, the jury deliberated for less than three hours and acquitted Mr. DeJesus of all charges. ECBA partners Earl Ward and Elizabeth Saylor tried the case.
The Appellate Division, First Department granted a preliminary injunction today halting construction of the controversial $130 million Pier 55 project on the West Side of Manhattan until it rules on whether the project is lawful. Work crews began pre-construction work on the 2.7-acre landscaped island yesterday and were to begin placing concrete pilings on July 5.
ECBA represents The City Club of New York, Tom Fox, and Robert Buchanan in several actions to challenge the project. Petitioners contend that the project fails to comply with the Hudson River Park Act, and that the environmental review process was inadequate under the State Environmental Quality Review Act. Richard D. Emery, a partner at ECBA, said: “This project is illegal because the Hudson River Park Trust cut corners, deceived the Legislature, and gave away public parkland to a private entity without the proper checks and balances. Today’s decision confirms that Diller Island would cause irreparable harm to the Hudson River and to the public, and that we are likely to succeed in stopping it for good.”
In issuing the preliminary injunction, the Appellate Division made an initial, and tentative, determination that petitioners are likely to succeed on the merits; that petitioners and the public will likely suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; and that the balance of equities tips in petitioners’ favor.
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.”
New York City and State have agreed to pay $23.78 million to Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez, who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 18 years for two 1995 murders in which neither man had any involvement. Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez will each receive $8 million from New York City, in addition to $3.89 million previously paid by New York State, for a total of $11.89 million each in settlements.
Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez were jointly indicted with five other individuals for the 1995 murders of a livery taxi driver and a FedEx employee, despite the absence of any physical evidence connecting them to the crimes. A 2012 investigation by federal authorities revealed that the taxi driver’s murder had actually been committed by two gang members whose names came up repeatedly during the NYPD’s 1995 investigation but who were never pursued as suspects. The revelation that the two gang members had previously confessed to committing the taxi driver murder—without any involvement by any of the six people convicted—led to the recantation of a central witness in the FedEx case, who claimed that her trial testimony had been coerced and manufactured by NYPD detectives. After using this new information to help free Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez from prison in 2013, ECBA attorneys Earl S. Ward, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and David A. Lebowitz represented the men in civil litigation against the City and State along with co-counsel Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, PLLC.
ECBA and Romano & Kuan previously obtained $6.7 million in settlements from the City and State on behalf of the estate of Israel Vasquez, one of the other individuals wrongly accused of the same two 1995 murders, who spent over 12 years in prison before his conviction was overturned due to the insufficiency of the evidence against him. The team has thus recovered over $30 million for these three families in connection with this tragic case. The New York Times and the New York Daily News, among other publications, covered the settlements.