Posts Tagged ‘New York state’

Obstruction of justice, the collectively bargained way

Investigators tried to look into the beating of an inmate by guards at New York’s famously tough Attica prison, still remembered for a lethal 1971 uprising, but ran into trouble: “Under their union contract, corrections officers are obligated to answer questions only from their employers and have the right to refuse to talk to outside police agencies. State Police investigators attempted to interview 15 guards; 11 declined to cooperate.” The subsequent sending of a “Notice of Discipline” to five officers on charges of excessive force “prompted an immediate rebellion among Attica’s corrections officers, who began a by-the-book work slowdown. Such job actions are not uncommon, officials acknowledge, with the only victims being the inmates whose meals, programs and visitors are all delayed.” [Theodore Ross, New York Times, in major article on aftermath of Attica, N.Y. prison]

Police and community roundup

  • Noting statistical disparities, DoJ blames evils of Ferguson, Mo. policing on racism, conservatives push back [Dara Lind/Vox, Peter Kirsanow, IBD] Many of same trends in policing and incarceration found in cities where voters, elected officials and police forces are black-majority [Reihan Salam]
  • “Resisting arrest” when there are no other charges against you: an odd crime may soon get odder if New York lawmakers yield to demands that it be made a felony [Scott Greenfield]
  • Interview with former Virginia Attorney General and corrections reformer Mark Earley [Chase Madar, American Conservative]
  • “How to Address Anger Over Shootings By Police? Hide Cops’ Names, Of Course!” [J.D. Tuccille; New York Times (“In many jurisdictions, including New York State, simply determining the names of officers involved in fatal shootings can be a struggle.”), earlier Virginia]
  • Did Detroit really do itself a favor with its massive crackdown on noncompliant businesses? [Scott Beyer, Governing]
  • “Governors Highlight Criminal Justice Reform in State of State Addresses” [ALEC “American Legislator”]
  • Minnesota bill would bar police agencies from investigating own officer-involved shootings [KMSP via Radley Balko]

Politics roundup

“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany”

Don’t take my word for it, take New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s:

Mr. Cuomo conceded that the scaffold law was among the “infuriating” things about doing business in New York, but couldn’t be changed because of the strength of its supporters, particularly the state trial lawyers association.

“The trial lawyers are the single most powerful political force in Albany,” he said. “That’s the short answer. It’s also the long answer.”

As Andrew Hawkins explains at Crain’s New York Business, which interviewed Cuomo, the scaffold law is New York’s alone-in-the-country legal regime ascribing 100% liability for gravity-related workplace injuries to businesses found to have contributed any fault, even if the predominant cause was a worker’s drunkenness or decision to violate safety rules. Because awards are high, some estimate that the law will contribute $200 million to construction costs at the Tappan Zee Bridge rebuilding project alone compared with a law more typical of what is found in other states. The law has been under vigorous attack for some time by a New York business coalition, to no avail.

Does Silver tarnish if exposed to sunlight?

Last year New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s income from prominent personal injury firm Weitz & Luxenberg, where he is of counsel, was between $350,000 and $450,000, a disclosure eagerly awaited by some Gotham reporters since details about Silver’s financial arrangement with the firm have previously been kept under wraps. Silver also has a relationship with Counsel Financial, which lends money for the furtherance of lawsuits. “Critics have suggested that the two-year gap between the old and new reporting requirements gave Silver enough time to front-load his salary from Weitz & Luxenberg before the new rules went into effect, thus making it appear he has a smaller salary when he had to finally publicly disclose it. Those close to Silver have dismissed such speculation.” Silver’s Assembly salary is $122,500. [New York Daily News; Ira Stoll]

Knock me over with a feather

A bill passed by the New York Senate would make it a felony to “subject” any police officer to “physical contact” with the intent to “harass, annoy, threaten or alarm” such officer. Under current law, only contact that results in injury rises to the status of a felony. Sen. Joe Griffo (R-Rome), sponsor of the bill, cites “shocking incidents” of “disrespect.” [Gothamist, Scott Greenfield; Gannett LoHud (Sen. Griffo complains his intent was misunderstood, says bill is doomed in Assembly)]

Environmental roundup

When regulators retaliate

The uproar continues, and quite properly so (earlier here and here), over the threats of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Chicago alderman Proco (“Joe”) Moreno to exclude the Chick-Fil-A fast-food chain because they disagree (as do I) with some of the views of its owner. Among the latest commentary, the impeccably liberal Boston Globe has sided with the company in an editorial (“which part of the First Amendment does Menino not understand?…A city in which business owners must pass a political litmus test is the antithesis of what the Freedom Trail represents”), as has my libertarian colleague Tom Palmer at Cato (“Mayor Menino is no friend of human rights.”)

The spectacle of a national business being threatened with denial of local licenses because of its views on a national controversy is bad enough. But “don’t offend well-organized groups” is only Rule #2 for a business that regularly needs licenses, approvals and permissions. Rule #1 is “don’t criticize the officials in charge of granting the permissions.” Can you imagine if Mr. Dan Cathy had been quoted in an interview as saying “Boston has a mediocre if not incompetent Mayor, and the Chicago Board of Aldermen is an ethics scandal in continuous session.” How long do you think it would take for his construction permits to get approved then?

Thus it is that relatively few businesses are willing to criticize the agencies that regulate them in any outspoken way (see, e.g.: FDA and pharmaceutical industry, the), or to side with pro-business groups that seriously antagonize many wielders of political power (see, e.g., the recent exodus of corporate members from the American Legislative Exchange Council).

A few weeks ago I noted the case of Maryland’s South Mountain Creamery, which contends through an attorney (though the U.S. Attorney for Maryland denies it) that it was offered less favorable terms in a plea deal because it had talked to the press in statements that wound up garnering bad publicity for the prosecutors. After that item, reader Robert V. wrote in as follows:

Your recent article about the [U.S. Attorney for Maryland] going after the dairy farmers reminded me a case in New York state where the Health Department closed down a nursing home in Rochester. They claim is was because of poor care, the owner claims it was because he spoke out against the DOH.

The state just lost a lawsuit where the jury found the DOH targeted the nursing home operator because he spoke out against them.

According to Democrat and Chronicle reporters Gary Craig and Steve Orr, the jury found state health officials had engaged in a “vendetta” against the nursing home owner:

Beechwood attorneys maintained that an email and document trail showed that Department of Health officials singled out Chambery for retribution because he had sparred with them in the past over regulatory issues. The lawsuit hinged on a Constitutional argument — namely that the state violated Chambery’s First Amendment rights by targeting him for his challenges to their operation.

The Second Circuit panel opinion in 2006 permitting Chambery/ Beechwood’s retaliation claim to go forward is here. It took an extremely long time for the nursing home operators to get their case to a jury; the state closed them down in 1999 and the facility was sold at public auction in 2002.