ECBAWM, together with co-counsel Scott Stevenson, has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city of New York and eight former New York City police officers on behalf of George Bell. The suit alleges that as a result of rampant misconduct by the police and prosecutors within the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, Mr. Bell was convicted of a double homicide that he did not commit. Mr. Bell faced the death penalty before being sentenced to life in prison. He was 19 years old at the time of his arrest. Mr. Bell’s conviction was vacated and he was finally freed at the age of 44, having spent over 24 years incarcerated.
During the criminal investigation of the crimes for which Mr. Bell was charged the police pursued Mr. Bell based on an unreliable tip, interrogated Mr. Bell through the night on Christmas Eve, and then brutally beat him until he agreed to falsely confess. After Mr. Bell’s arrest, the prosecution and/or police came into possession of exonerating evidence that they did not disclose to Mr. Bell. This evidence made clear that a local armed robbery gang called Speedstick, not Mr. Bell, had committed these murders, and law enforcement knew it years before Mr. Bell was even tried. Rather than admit that they had the wrong man, police and district attorneys suppressed this evidence and fabricated additional evidence to implicate Mr. Bell. These civil rights violations were part of a pattern of the Queens District Attorney’s Office under District Attorney Richard Brown that has recently come to light and has formed the basis for multiple wrongful conviction claims against the City of New York. When vacating Mr. Bell’s conviction, Queens County Supreme Court Justice Zayas concluded that law enforcement’s handling of Mr. Bell’s case “leaves the distinct impression that the suppression of the [exonerating] information was not an isolated instance of misconduct, but part of a larger pattern of behavior that was calculated to deprive the defendants of fair trials, which is particularly egregious given that the death penalty was being sought against 19-year-old George Bell.”
A federal class action brought on behalf of individuals whose communications were illegally intercepted through a scheme orchestrated by a former Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney has been settled with New York City and employees of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office for $3.2 million.
ECBAWM attorneys Richard D. Emery, Samuel Shapiro, and Scout Katovich, along with co-counsel Wiggin & Dana LLP, represent the class, whose communications were intercepted as the result of former Brooklyn ADA Tara Lenich creating fake court orders to fraudulently obtain wiretaps for the phones of a detective with whom Lenich had an affair and a woman Lenich believed to be in a romantic relationship with the detective.
Filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, the agreement settles Federal Wiretap Act allegations against the City of New York and employees of the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. Ms. Lenich did not participate in the settlement.
You can read more about this case in Law360. The case is Rosenfeld et al. v. Lenich et al. (1:18-cv-06720, E.D.N.Y.).
Two ECBAWM clients were featured by the New York Times in its recent article The People vs. Big Development. The article highlights a court order blocking a massive development project, heavily opposed by the local community, in the Two Bridges neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The New York City Council, represented by ECBAWM, and the Manhattan Borough President sued the City’s development agencies for approving the project without undergoing the City’s public land use review process, known as ULURP, which requires extensive community input and final approval by the City Council. Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron granted a permanent injunction enjoining any construction on the project until a ULURP review is performed.
The article also highlights the legal challenge to the 200 Amsterdam tower, in which ECBAWM represents the Municipal Art Society of New York and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development in a suit challenging the developer’s creation of a “gerrymandered” 39-sided zoning lot. As The Times reports, the resulting out-of-scale tower would be over twice the height of nearby towers, and the “tallest north of 61st Street.”
On September 23, 2019, New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron granted an Article 78 Petition filed by ECBAWM on behalf of clients Council Member Rory I. Lancman and the Community Service Social of New York (“CSSNY”). The order compels the New York City Police Department to disclose statistics, which are required to be made public by City Law, regarding arrests made and civil summonses issued to individuals for fare evasion at each of the 472 subway stations in New York City. These statistics, which will provide the public with an important tool to ensure accountability from the Police Department.
After CSSNY issued a detailed report reflecting that the vast majority of arrests and summonses for subway fare evasion occur in poor African-American communities, Council Member Lancman introduced legislation requiring the Police Department to release quarterly reports detailing the number of arrests under New York Penal Law § 165.15 and summonses under MTA Rule of Conduct § 1050.4 that were issued for fare evasion at each subway station throughout New York City and to break down the data by various demographic criteria, such as the race, gender, and age range of each person arrested or summonsed. Council Member Lancman’s proposed bill was unanimously approved by the City Council and went into law as New York City Administrative Code § 14-172 in January 2018. Since the law’s enactment, the Police Department had brazenly refused to comply with its obligations. Yesterday’s ruling will ensure that the City will receive the transparency that the City Council has required and that the public deserves.
As reported on CNN, ECBAWM filed suit against the MTA on June 18, 2019, alleging that it violated the First Amendment rights of Dame Products, a company that designs and manufactures innovative tools for women’s sexual pleasure and wellness.
Dame submitted proposed advertisements for its toys to the MTA in July 2018. At first, the MTA approved certain advertisements and provided Dame with creative feedback over the course of six months. Then, the MTA suddenly changed course and refused to display Dame’s advertisements on subways and other MTA property, even though the MTA already displays numerous ads for erectile dysfunction medication, condoms, and other products geared towards men. The Complaint details how the MTA’s decision to ban Dame’s advertisement amounts to unconstitutional censorship and reflects the MTA’s sexist views of women’s sexual health.
Dame is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Richard Emery and Emma L. Freeman.
On March 14, 2019, Justice W. Franc Perry ruled in favor of firm clients the Municipal Art Society of New York and the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development in their ongoing action to halt the unlawful construction of a 668-foot residential mega-tower on a gerrymandered zoning lot at 200 Amsterdam Avenue, previously slated to be the tallest building on the Upper West Side. The Court held that the building permit rested on an unreasonable interpretation of the Zoning Resolution that was inconsistent with a plain reading of the statute, and remanded the building permit back to the BSA for further review consistent with the Court’s order. The Court also rejected the argument of the developer, Amsterdam Avenue Redevelopment Associates LLC, that simply because DOB had issued the permit in the first place, it was therefore entitled to complete the building. “Vested rights,” the Court wrote, “cannot be acquired by relying on an invalid permit.”