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16 Years After First ECBAWM Class Action, Mayor and City Council Agree to Close Rikers Island

Sixteen years after ECBAWM filed its first class action alleging a pattern and practice of brutality and poor training, discipline, and investigations of corrections officers at Rikers Island, Mayor De Blasio and the City Council have agreed to shut down Rikers Island once and for all.  In 2001, ECBAWM filed the original lawsuit, Ingles v. Toro, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Sullivan & Cromwell. The case settled in 2003, but the settlement failed to reduce the use of force by corrections officers on Rikers Island. As a result, in 2011, ECBAWM filed a new class action, Nunez v. City of New York, with co-counsel Legal Aid Society and Ropes & Gray, again alleging a pattern and practice of brutality and cover-ups by corrections officers at Rikers Island. Nunez, and a parallel Department of Justice lawsuit, settled in 2015, resulting in thousands of new cameras, a federal monitor, and other sweeping reforms at Rikers. The case also brought to light the fundamental inhumanity and unfairness of the entire institution.

ECBAWM lawyers involved in the Rikers cases include Jonathan Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, Katherine Rosenfeld, Debra Greenberger, Zoe Salzman, and Vasudha Talla.

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ECBAWM Reaches Over $12 Million Settlement on Behalf of Family of Children Killed in Fire

The City of Stamford and two of its employees, Ernest Orgera and Robert DeMarco, have agreed to pay $6.65 million to settle wrongful death claims by the Estates of Lily Badger, Sarah Badger, and Grace Badger. The settlement includes a $250,000 annuity to the Stamford Chapter of the Girl Scouts of America to fund scholarships for young girls. Previous settlements with other defendants in the case totaled over $6 million, for a total settlement of over $12.7 million.

The case arose from a tragic house fire in Stamford, Connecticut on Christmas Day, 2011. Lily, 9, and Sarah and Grace, each 7, all died in the fire, as did their grandparents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson. The settlement marks the end of more than five years of investigation and litigation. Matthew Badger, the girls’ father and the original administrator of their estates, brought the case in June 2012.

ECBAWM attorneys Richard D. Emery, Ilann M. Maazel, Sam Shapiro, Jessica Clarke, Vasudha Talla, and Jennifer Keighley represented the Badger estates at various stages of the litigation.

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ECBAWM Defeats Challenge to City Law Banning Race-Based Stop-and-Frisks

The New York Supreme Court upheld a New York City law banning police stops based on race, national origin, citizenship status, gender, disability, housing status, or sexual orientation. ECBAWM attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Elizabeth Saylor, and Vasudha Talla, on behalf of the New York City Council, defended the law, which allows those subjected to illegal stops to sue for injunctive relief. The law, Local Law 71, was passed over former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto in response to unprecedented numbers of police stops that overwhelmingly targeted black and Latino residents. Mayor Bloomberg sued to invalidate the law on constitutional grounds, and the City Council retained ECBAWM to represent it and defend the statute. The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and another police union, organizations that later joined the constitutional challenge to Local Law 71, have vowed to appeal the ruling.

“Public allowed to sue NYPD cops over stop-and-frisk profiling, state judge rules,” New York Daily News

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ECBAWM’s Defense of City Council Racial Profiling Law

Mayor de Blasio announced yesterday that he would drop the lawsuit brought by former Mayor Bloomberg against the New York City Council to challenge the validity of Local Law 71, which bars racial and other bias-based profiling. Local Law 71 was enacted in the wake of a federal court finding that the NYPD’s “stop & frisk” activities violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Former Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the legislation, but the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto. Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel was selected to represent the City Council and defend the constitutionality of the law when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg first challenged it and still represents the Council. New York City’s police unions, who intervened in the case, stated that they would continue fighting the law. ECBAWM partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the New York Law Journal that Mayor de Blasio’s decision to drop the lawsuit “shows that this mayor respects the democratic process and the New York City Charter.” In addition to Mr. Celli, ECBAWM lawyers Elizabeth Saylor and Vasudha Talla represent the City Council.

“Mayor Says New York City Will Settle Suits on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics,” New York Times

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ECBAWM Represents New York City Council in Stop & Frisk Civil Remedy and Affordable Housing Disclosure Cases

ECBAWM has been selected to represent the New York City Council in two cases where Mayor Bloomberg has challenged the legality of duly-enacted local legislation.

In Mayor v. City Council, #451543/2013, the firm is defending the constitutionality of the Community Safety Act (Local Law 71), which creates a civil remedy for persons subjected to bias-based policing. The Act, which allows private suits against the New York Police Department for injunctive relief, was enacted in the wake of a federal court finding that the NYPD’s “stop & frisk” activities violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Mayor Bloomberg vetoed the legislation, but the City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto. In the lawsuit, the Mayor alleges that the Act is preempted by state Criminal Procedure Law. Unions representing NYPD sergeants and line officers have joined the suit against the City Council. ECBAWM lawyers Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Elizabeth Saylor, and Vasudha Talla are handling the case.

Separately, in New York State Association for Affordable Housing et al. v. City Council, # 158093/2013, a trade organization of real estate developers has sued to invalidate Local Law 44, an amendment to the City’s Administrative Code that requires developers to report the wages of workers employed on City-financed housing construction projects. The Bloomberg Administration, joining with the plaintiff trade group, alleges that the law is preempted by state minimum wage and housing finance statutes. ECBAWM lawyers Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Elizabeth Saylor, and Debra Greenberger are handling the case.

 

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ECBAWM Files Amicus Brief in U.S. Supreme Court on Behalf of Former HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and Others in Fair Housing Case

ECBAWM represented former HUD Secretary Henry G. Cisneros and ten other former HUD officials to file in an amicus curiae brief in the United States Supreme Court in Township of Mount Holly, et al. v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action, Inc., et al. The brief discusses HUD’s discriminatory effects regulation and long-standing consistent application of a disparate impact theory of liability in administering and enforcing the Fair Housing Act. The brief argues that the Court should defer to HUD’s reasonable interpretation of the FHA. ECBAWM’s Diane L. Houk and Vasudha Talla authored the brief.

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ECBAWM Files a Federal Lawsuit on Behalf of Harry Belafonte, Human Rights Activist and Music Legend

ECBAWM filed a federal lawsuit in New York last week on behalf of Harry Belafonte, human rights activist and music legend. In his lawsuit, Mr. Belafonte seeks the return of three historic documents given to him by the late Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King. Mr. Belafonte and Dr. King worked closely together throughout the civil rights movement and forged a deep and enduring personal friendship. The three documents given to Mr. Belafonte are an outline for Dr. King’s now-famous “The Casualties of the War in Vietnam” speech, Dr. King’s notes from another, undelivered speech to be given in Memphis, Tennessee that were found in Dr. King’s suit pocket after he was assassinated in 1968, and a condolence letter sent by President Lyndon Johnson to Mrs. King after Dr. King’s assassination.

The documents have been in the possession of Sotheby’s auction house in New York since 2008, when the Estate of Martin Luther King Jr, Inc. and Bernice King, on behalf of the estate of Coretta Scott King, asserted that Mr. Belafonte obtained the documents from a wrongfully acquired collection. No shred of evidence has been offered to support this claim.

Mr. Belafonte seeks to put an end to the current situation in which the Estate and Bernice King have prevented him from recovering the documents. Mr. Belafonte is represented by ECBAWM attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Andrew G. Celli, Jr., and Vasudha Talla, and Prof. Charles J. Ogletree, Jr.

“Belafonte Sues Heirs of Martin Luther King Jr.,” New York Times

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ECBAWM Reaches Settlement in Housing Discrimination Case

The Fair Housing Justice Center and three African-American testers reached a settlement with NASA Real Estate Corporation after suing the company for racial discrimination in its 107-unit apartment building in Sunnyside, Queens. The plaintiffs alleged that a superintendent who worked and lived at the building falsely told African-Americans that there were no vacant units available, even though he showed equally qualified white testers vacant units available to rent in the building. In addition to monetary damages of $130,000, the settlement provides for a detailed three-year injunction that covers over 20 buildings. The plaintiffs were represented by ECBAWM attorneys Elizabeth S. Saylor, Diane L. Houk, and Vasudha Talla.

To read more about the settlement, please click here.

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Landlord and Superintendent of Large Queens Apartment Building Sued for Discriminating Against African-Americans

The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) and three African-American testers filed a lawsuit today in federal court alleging that the landlord and superintendent of a large apartment building in a predominantly white area of Sunnyside, Queens discriminate on the basis of race. While white testers sent to the building were shown an available one-bedroom apartment, the African-American testers were told that there were no apartments available in the building. The superintendent, who refused to show the African-American testers any apartments in the building, told the white testers, “I chose the people…. You look like nice people, that’s why I show you.” The suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief to stop the discrimination and ensure future compliance with fair housing laws. The FHJC and three African-American testers are represented by Elizabeth Saylor, Diane L. Houk, and Vasudha Talla of ECBAWM.

“Lawsuit Claims Racial Discrimination at a Building in Sunnyside,” New York Times

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