In early December 2018, New York State Attorney General-elect Letitia James appointed ECBA co-founding partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. to her Transition Committee and selected him to lead the Committee’s working group on civil rights enforcement. Celli, who served as Chief of the Civil Rights Bureau in the Office of the Attorney General from 1999 until 2003, convened a group of 35 leading civil rights lawyers to generate ideas and comment on priorities for the new Attorney General. He presented the group’s findings to General James and the full Transition Committee at the Committee’s final meeting on January 23, 2019.
Sociologist Shamus Khan, Chair and Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, praises the work of ECBA in a forthcoming article in Sociological Forum magazine. The article, entitled “The Subpoena of Ethnographic Data,” describes the ethical and legal challenges faced when Prof. Khan, a renowned scholar of gender, sexuality, and cultural elites, received a document subpoena seeking the production of ethnographic data. The data in question was collected by Prof. Khan at St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school which Khan profiled in his ground-breaking book Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. The subpoena arose from a civil suit brought by a young woman who, as a student at St. Paul’s, alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by another student. The case gained national attention and the accused young man was found guilty of statutory rape. The subpoena sought, among other things, copies of Prof. Khan’s contemporaneous field notes of observations he had made of students, faculty and administrators while living on the campus of St. Paul’s in 2004-2005. Describing ECBA as a “powerful law firm” and thanking ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. for “his counsel,” the article details the firm’s successful effort to force the withdrawal of the subpoena. The firm invoked case law that extends the First-Amendment-based “journalist’s privilege” to academic researchers like Prof. Khan. In addition to Mr. Celli, firm associate David Lebowitz handled the matter for Prof. Khan.
Click here to read Prof. Khan’s article in Sociological Forum.
On January 11, 2019 the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York granted ECBA client Equan Yunus a preliminary injunction removing his unconstitutional designation as a sex offender. Although Mr. Yunus has never committed sexual misconduct, he had been forced to register as a sex offender under New York’s irrational and overbroad offender registration laws. Because of this designation, Mr. Yunus was subject to numerous overbearing parole conditions designed to deter sex offenses that bore no relation to his crime of conviction, including limitations on his ability to access a cell phone or computer and to interact with minor members of his own family.
While the New York Court of Appeals had upheld this law as rational years earlier in another case, the federal court agreed with Mr. Yunus and ECBA that this treatment as a sex offender violated his constitutional right to substantive due process. Mr. Yunus’s designation and its accompanying oppressive restrictions must be removed as a result of the Court’s ruling.
ECBA Attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and David Berman represent Mr. Yunus. To read the Court’s opinion granting Mr. Yunus a preliminary injunction, click here. To read the Guardian’s profile of Mr. Yunus’s case, click here. To read coverage of the case in the New York Law Journal, click here.
ECBA has settled the 2016 Pennsylvania recount case brought by presidential candidate Jill Stein and Pennsylvania voters. The lawsuit challenged Pennsylvania’s use of paperless voting systems, as well as its byzantine, anti-voter recount procedures.
The settlement requires Pennsylvania to provide voter-verifiable paper ballots to all voters by 2020, and automatic, robust, statewide election audits by 2022.
“With this settlement, Pennsylvania will go from an election integrity backwater to a national leader,” said Ilann M. Maazel. “We will be watching closely to ensure Pennsylvania implements every one of these important election reforms.”
ECBA, along with the law firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink LLP, has filed a nationwide class action lawsuit on behalf of four individuals and a putative class against Donald J. Trump and the Trump Corporation, as well as Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump, alleging that Plaintiffs were victims of three businesses promoted by Mr. Trump, in his personal capacity, and the other defendants. The Complaint alleges that Mr. Trump and the other defendants conspired to deceptively endorse a series of sham businesses including ACN, the Trump Network, and the Trump Institute. In exchange for undisclosed endorsement fees, the Complaint alleges, defendants promoted these businesses with the power of the Trump brand — all to persuade vulnerable parties such as the Plaintiffs to invest in opportunities defendants knew had little chance of success. The filing was covered by, among other outlets, the New York Times.
ECBA is credited for its legal work in Michael Moore’s new film ” Fahrenheit 11/9″. The film — a scathing indictment of the state of American politics, media and culture in the Trump Era — was the subject of a pre-release legal vetting by ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. Watch the trailer for the film here.
In a victory for the First Amendment, a New York judge granted ECBA’s motion on behalf of the Avaaz Foundation, a global civic movement, to quash a sweeping document subpoena issued by the Monsanto Company, the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and biotech giant. The subpoena sought access to three-and-a-half years’ worth of Avaaz’s confidential political communications, internal strategy memos, and campaign plans – its political “playbook,” in the judge’s words — for its ongoing, worldwide effort to persuade governments around the world to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® products. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and a California jury recently found that Roundup® caused a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
In quashing the subpoena, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto’s request would have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the protected First Amendment activities of Avaaz and other civic organizations. Giving Monsanto access to Avaaz’s internal communications, Justice Hagler explained, would discourage Avaaz and its members from participating in “a movement they feel is just and right.” Justice Hagler also ruled that the documents Monsanto sought were “utterly irrelevant” to a Missouri lawsuit for which it purportedly sought them. If enforced, the subpoena would have required Avaaz to produce its campaign plans, strategy deliberations, and research to Monsanto.
On July 18, 2018, ECBA filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home. The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018. Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill. Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars. The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless. “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press. The case was widelycovered and the subject of a New York Post editorial.
On April 17, 2018, ECBA filed an Article 78 and Declaratory Judgment Petition in New York County Supreme Court on behalf of the Council of the City of New York, Council Member Ritchie J. Torres, Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, and Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, and against Zachary W. Carter, the Corporation Counsel of the City of New York. The Petition challenges the Corporation Counsel’s assertion that only that office can represent members of the City Council who wish to file friend-of-the-court briefs in their official capacities as Council Members. The City Council and the Council Members allege that both the separation of powers and the First Amendment allow them to retain their own lawyers for purposes of filing friend-of-the-court briefs in their official capacities.