Sarokin defends Kreimer decision

by Ted Frank on December 29, 2006

Former federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin, now a blogger, defends his decision in the Kreimer case (Mar. 17, 2005; Feb. 25):

I concede that I have made some mistakes (what judge hasn’t), had some reversals and wish I could revise some decisions, BUT no matter how many times they say that I ruled that a “smelly, homeless” man could annoy and drive patrons out of the Morristown library and harass women, it won’t be true. I declared a regulation invalid on the grounds that it was too vague and broad in giving librarians the discretion to oust or forever bar patrons. I never made any ruling about the individual involved or his conduct. It was a decision on the law not on the facts.

This is a dodge: Sarokin ruled that the library could not have a blanket rule excluding members of the public for poor personal hygiene, because such a rule would be too vague. So Sarokin did rule that it was impermissible for a library to bar someone for being so smelly as to be a nuisance. Also unmentioned is that Sarokin was wrong on the law, to boot: the Third Circuit eventually overturned Sarokin’s decision:

While the district court was probably correct that the rule may disproportionately affect the homeless who have limited access to bathing facilities, this fact is irrelevant to a facial challenge and further would not justify permitting a would-be patron, with hygiene so offensive that it constitutes a nuisance, to force other patrons to leave the Library, or to inhibit Library employees from performing their duties.

Alas, this decision on the injunction came too late: taxpayers had already shelled out $230,000 to Kreimer in a settlement of the pending damages claims, having already been held liable by Sarokin. See Kreimer v. Bureau of Police for the Town of Morristown, 765 F. Supp. 181 (D.N.J. 1991), rev’d 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir. 1992).