Legal Aid, Cleary Gottlieb File Motion To Intervene on PBA Lawsuit Against the City over Disclosure of Police Discipline Summaries

The Legal Aid Society and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP filed a Motion to Intervene on Patrolmen's Benevolent Association of the City of New York, Inc. - v. - Bill de Blasio et al in New York County Supreme Court today arguing that the City’s erratic interpretation of 1976 State Civil Rights Law 50-a undermines its ability to effectively argue this important case.

This past April, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) filed litigation to permanently prevent New York City Police Department Commissioner James O’Neill from posting summaries online of allegations against officers and how they were penalized, without mentioning the officers by name. The Court shortly thereafter granted the PBA’s motion temporarily blocking the NYPD from releasing this information.

This Motion to Intervene argues that the City and the PBA are engaging in a mutual legal fiction to the detriment of the people of New York City and their right to know about how their police force is managed. Both parties maintain that Section 50-a restricts the ability of the City to publish officer disciplinary information, when in reality, Section 50-a serves only to protect officers’ records from vexatious litigation by private parties. Furthermore, the proposed summaries are not even subject to Section 50-a, as they would never be considered when evaluating police officers.

If granted, Legal Aid and Cleary Gottlieb would appear in court with the PBA and the City on June 5, 2018 for arguments.

“The City’s erratic interpretation of Civil Rights Law 50-a concerns us as advocates for freedom of information,” said Cynthia Conti-Cook, Staff Attorney with the Criminal Defense Practice Special Litigation Unit at The Legal Aid Society. “New Yorkers need a voice in this lawsuit that is truly on the side of transparency and accountability. We look forward to intervening in this matter to be that voice, and arguing for the disclosure of police discipline records – a practice the City had followed for 40 years through multiple administrations.”

“The statute here simply does not restrict the voluntary conduct of government agencies; we hope the Court will clarify that the City is free to publish this information on police discipline, with or without officer names, as it sees fit,” said Roger Cooper, Partner at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

"It's outrageous that the PBA will potentially be able to block police transparency by relying on the last few years of the de Blasio administration's ever-expanding misinterpretations of state law that have concealed police misconduct and other basic information from public scrutiny,” said Joo-Hyun Kang, Director of Communities United for Police Reform. “It’s important for the court to hold the NYPD accountable as a government agency that must be transparent to the public. The de Blasio administration must stop misusing state law to shield abusive officers and hide more and more from the public about the NYPD.”

View related materials:

Order to Show Cause (PDF) Memoranda of Law (PDF)