Article

“Bronx Zoo” Case Settles for $6 Million and Transfer of Control of State Facility

As reported in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, and elsewhere,…

New York, NY – This morning, three families settled a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging abuse of disabled residents in a State-run group home in the Bronx. The lawsuit revealed years of shocking abuse and neglect in the Bronx home, including staff who gave disabled residents black eyes, pulled their hair, spit in their faces, kicked them, sexually abused them, withheld food from them, showered them in frigid water, and botched their medical care.

The group home is run by the Office for People With Developmental Disabilities (“OPWDD”), a New York State agency. Whistleblowers testified that staff acted “like prison guards,” “operated like a gang,” and treated disabled resident like “animals in the zoo.”[1] Some staff referred to the group home as “the Bronx Zoo.” In sworn testimony, OPWDD’s then-Commissioner, Kerry A. Delaney, described State employees’ conduct as “utterly shocking,” admitted that defendants “failed their duty to protect individuals in that home,” and called the home “a disaster.” A copy of the complaint is here.

Under the settlement, the State will pay $6 million, believed to be one of the largest settlements in OPWDD history. In addition, the State will permanently relinquish control of the home, known as the Union Avenue IRA, to a nonprofit provider. Finally, the individual staff will never be permitted to reenter Union Avenue as long as any of the three disabled residents reside there.

“From the very top to the very bottom, OPWDD failed my sister on every level. I hope and pray that all the individuals living at Union Avenue will now live happy, healthy, fear-free lives, once OPWDD turns over control of Union Avenue to a nonprofit provider,” said Laura Kearins, sister of one of the plaintiffs. “I’m completely saddened and heartbroken. How can people prey on the innocent with no remorse? We will move forward trying to repair the damage that was done,” said Barbara Melendez, sister to another plaintiff.

“This is one of the most appalling disability abuse cases I’ve seen in over twenty years of practice,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel for the families, and a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “How could so many New York State employees brutalize so many people, for so long, while no staff or supervisor did a thing about it? This case is a wake-up call for massive reform in this State agency.”

Even today, many former Union Avenue staff with claims of abuse or neglect substantiated by the Justice Center work with disabled residents in other group homes run by New York State; many were not disciplined at all. David Lebowitz, another attorney for the families, called this “a scandal and a disgrace.” “Hopefully, this case and this settlement can shine a light on the structural issues that allow abusive staff to work with disabled people without consequence,” said Ashok Chandran, another attorney for the families.

Maazel and ECBA were also counsel in the cases of Jonathan Carey, Eddie Velasquez, and K.C.

For more information, contact:

Ilann M. Maazel, David Lebowitz, or Ashok Chandran
Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (in New York)
212-763-5000
imaazel@ecbalaw.com
dlebowitz@ecbalaw.com
achandran@ecbalaw.com

 

[1] As one staff member, Shirlynn Thomas, testified: “Q: Would you ever leave your child in the care of Linton, Conner, Tucker or Teams? A: Not my dog.  I wouldn’t leave my dog.”

Article

Ten ECBA Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Four Named as Rising Stars

ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew BrinckerhoffJonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal LiebermanDan KornsteinAndrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2019. Partners Zoe Salzman and Sam Shapiro and associates David Lebowitz and Alanna Kaufman were named as Rising Stars.

The Super Lawyers list is issued by Thompson Reuters. A description of the selection methodology can be found here.

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ECBA Wins Unsealing of Court Records in First Amendment Ruling

On July 3, 2019, after nearly three years of litigation, ECBA won a significant constitutional victory when the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the unsealing of court records in Giuffre v. Maxwell. The firm appeared on behalf of Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, an intervenor in the case, and it successfully argued that the wholesale sealing of records by the district judge violated the First Amendment’s “presumption of openness” for judicial documents; the presumption, the court reaffirmed, is essential to ensuring transparency and public oversight of the courts.

ECBA’s application for unsealing was followed by related applications filed by The Miami Herald and another media outlet, both of which were also granted.

Professor Dershowitz was represented by Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and David Lebowitz.

Coverage of the decision can be found here and here.

Article

Family Brutalized by U.S. Marshals in Justice Sotomayor Houses Files Federal Lawsuit

New York, NY – This morning, a single mother of two children living in Justice Sotomayor Houses in the Bronx, along with her brother and nine-year old daughter, filed a civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against the United States and sixteen United States Marshals. Without any basis, the Complaint alleges, the marshals punched, kicked and beat her brother, forced him to sit on a hot radiator, threatened to kill him, terrorized her 4- and 9-year old children, invaded her apartment without a warrant, and threatened to take away her benefits, her apartment, her children, and her freedom.

As alleged in the Complaint, the marshals said: “We can do whatever we want, we’re the feds.” “We don’t need a warrant.” “I should kill you right now.” “You’re lucky I don’t pull out my gun and shoot you.” “There are 7 of us, 1 of you. Who’s the judge going to believe?” “We’re the federal government – we can do whatever the fuck we want.”

After this terror, the marshals never arrested anyone in the family, and never apologized. Elva Rosa, the lead plaintiff, is an active member of her school’s PTA, and a supermarket cashier.

“These marshals acted like some sort of lawless gang. It’s appalling,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. “Would this happen on Park Avenue?  Never. But in the Bronx, there is no justice even in the former residence of a Supreme Court Justice. This should never happen in America, anywhere.”

The marshals left the family fearful and traumatized. Even now, Ms. Rosa’s daughter prays the marshals won’t take her mom away, and her four-year old son pretends to hold a gun and says: “Marshal, put your fucking hands up!”

Ilann M. Maazel and David Lebowitz represent the family.  To read coverage in the N.Y. Daily News, click here. To read coverage in the New York Law Journal, click here.

Article

Columbia Sociologist Lauds ECBA In Sociological Forum

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.

Article

Federal Court Sustains Suit Challenging Over-detentions of People Entitled to Release on Bail from New York City Jails

On September 28, 2018, federal judge William H. Pauley III denied a motion by the city of New York seeking to dismiss a proposed class action lawsuit filed by ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC on behalf of presumptively innocent criminal defendants held for hours or days in New York City jails despite being entitled to release on bail.  The court held that “Plaintiffs adequately allege that their interest in paying bail and being released after paying bail has been infringed by the City’s deliberate indifference.”  The suit alleges that the City is responsible for unreasonable systemic delays in accepting bail payments and in processing detainees for release once bail is posted.  The complaint details a Kafka-esque system where antiquated technology, inadequate staffing, and indifference conspire to keep thousands of New Yorkers each year in jail for hours or days without any legal basis.  The court’s decision ruled that these allegations are sufficient to claim violations of the United States constitution and New York law.  The case will now proceed to discovery.

To read the Court’s decision, click here.
To read the complaint, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Daily News, click here.

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff Debbie Greenberger, and David Lebowitz, along with Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

Article

ECBA Files Brief For Public Defenders and Civil Rights Groups Urging Appeals Court to Reconsider Approach to False Evidence Claims

ECBA has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the federal appeals court in Manhattan urging the full court to reconsider a recent decision that affects how much time victims of police misconduct have to file civil rights claims in court.  The amici curiae brief was filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations that defend indigent people accused of crimes, work to correct wrongful convictions, and protect civil rights.  It argues that when someone alleges that police fabricated evidence used to charge him with a crime, the statute of limitations on his civil claim should not start running until the criminal case against him is resolved in his favor.  As the brief explains, the recent decision, if not corrected by the full court, could hurt criminal defendants’ ability to defend themselves against charges and lead to the dismissal of valid civil rights claims for technical reasons, even if the plaintiff is the victim of egregious misconduct or has served years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The groups represented by ECBA in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Appellate Litigation, Connecticut Innocence Project, The Innocence Project, The Legal Aid Society, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Office of the Appellate Defender, and Vermont Office of the Defender General.  ECBA attorneys Sam Shapiro, David Lebowitz, Doug Lieb and Ashok Chandran worked on the brief.

Article

ECBA Client LaDonna Powell Profiled on This American Life

The firm’s client LaDonna Powell was profiled in this week’s This American Life.  To listen, click here.  LaDonna and many others were sexually harassed while working at JFK for Allied security, the largest security company in the country. The podcast describes in detail how she fought back against this harassment. To read the amended complaint, click here.

The case was previously covered in numerous other newspapers including the New York Daily News.  WNBC’s I-Team also covered the case on October 10, 2017 and broadcast a followup story on November 21, 2017. To view the press release, click here.

Elizabeth Saylor, Alanna Kaufman, and David Lebowitz represent Ms. Powell and three other Allied employers who were discriminated against.

Article

ECBA Files Employment Discrimination Complaint on Behalf of Former World Trade Center Security Guard

On November 16, 2017, ECBA filed a charge of discrimination with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of Nicole Johnson, a former security professional for Allied Universal Security Services at the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan. Allied, one of the nation’s largest security firms, contracts with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to provide security services at sensitive locations including the World Trade Center and area airports.

The complaint alleges that, during her time at Allied, Ms. Johnson was subjected to a campaign of sexual harassment by a supervisor that was facilitated by Allied human resources workers who failed to act on her repeated complaints and instead disseminated rumors about her to her co-workers. As the harassment escalated, Ms. Johnson was the victim of groping, unwanted sexual touching, and a barrage of obscene and degrading comments. Ultimately, she was fired for pretextual reasons in retaliation for complaining about the culture of harassment at Allied.
ECBA also represents LaDonna Powell, a former security supervisor at JFK airport who has sued Allied for sexual harassment and violations of wage and hour laws.

WNBC’s I-Team, which previously covered Ms. Powell’s case, broadcast a followup story on Ms. Johnson’s complaint on November 21, 2017.

 

ECBA’s Elizabeth Saylor, David Lebowitz, and Alanna Kaufman represent Ms. Powell and Ms. Johnson.

Article

ECBA Files Class Action Challenging Over-detentions of People Entitled to Release on Bail from New York City Jails

On October 4, 2017, ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC filed a federal class action lawsuit on behalf of presumptively innocent criminal defendants held for hours or days in New York City jails despite being entitled to release on bail. The complaint alleges that the City has been deliberately indifferent to the problem of unreasonable systemic delays in accepting bail payments and in processing detainees for release once bail is posted. The suit details a Kafka-esque system where antiquated technology, inadequate staffing, and indifference conspire to keep thousands of New Yorkers each year in jail for hours or days without any legal basis.

To read the complaint, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Daily News, click here.

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff , Debbie Greenberger, and David Lebowitz, along with Julia Kuan of Romano and Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

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