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Sunday, January 23, 2011

NY: Mayor Lashes Out at Judge

Mayor Michael Bloomberg lambasted a state Supreme Court judge on Friday for blocking the city's sheriff's office from moving forward with a cost-saving series of layoffs and demotions, accusing the judge of overstepping her authority.

Mr. Bloomberg called on Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the State of New York, to "step in and fix this system" to prevent what he described as a breach of justice

The mayor's diatribe against Justice Emily Jane Goodman – part of a freewheeling discussion on his weekly radio show – represents one of the harshest broadsides Mr. Bloomberg has lobbed at a sitting member of the judiciary since he became the city's chief executive nine years ago.

While this case involves a limited number of layoffs and demotions, the mayor has warned the city may need to layoff more than 5,000 employees in the coming months to combat a $2.4 billion deficit in the next fiscal year. City officials fear this case could set a dangerous precedent as the administration scrambles to balance the books.

Judge Goodman did not return a request for comment.

On Thursday, Judge Goodman issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from laying off nine deputy sheriffs and demoting three supervising deputy sheriffs. For every day the order remains in effect, the cost to the city is $4,045.

The judge did not grant a request from the city that would have required the petitioners, the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, to post a bond enabling the city to recoup its financial loss if it wins the case. The judge set the next hearing for Feb. 10, which city officials argue violates rules requiring the matter be heard at the "earliest possible date."

On Friday, Mr. Bloomberg denounced the decision, saying "there's no reason in law for the judge to do this." The mayor said the taxpayers will be on the hook for thousands of dollars a day, "Just because this judge decides to step in and says 'Oh, I feel sorry for those people.' What about for the taxpayers?"

"We're going to have to lay off people now in other areas where we would not" before, the mayor said.

The mayor continued to lash out at the judge, saying she has a "long history" of these types of unjust moves on the bench.

According to court papers filed by the city, Judge Goodman issued a temporary restraining order in December 2009 preventing the city form moving forward on a rezoning initiative in Brooklyn. That case remains unresolved. In another matter, it took the judge more than a year to reach a decision in a rent guidelines case, the city said in court papers.

On his radio show, the mayor called on the chief judge to intervene.

"We need Judge Lippman to make these judges follow the law," he said. "Not get involved where they have no legal standing and if they do have legal standing, do what the law says."

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said, "Judge Lippmann can clearly not intervene in a pending case."

"We have an independent judiciary and if the city disagrees with the judge's decision, they know well that the appellate division is the appropriate venue for a remedy," he said.

On Friday, the city lost an appeal at the appellate division. But in court papers the city suggested Judge Goodman may be allowing her personal policy opinions to influence her legal decisions.

According to court papers filed by the city, when the city's lawyer told the judge that these layoffs were necessary to cut down on expenses, the judge replied, "So we can afford two chancellors."

The comment appears to be an attack on the mayor who was forced to name a chief academic officer at the Education Department in order to get state approval to appoint Cathie Black, a former media executive with no prior education experience, as schools chancellor. The city also pointed out that the judge's daughter was recently laid off.

Ronald Kliegerman, an attorney for the deputy sheriffs, called the city "cry babies."

"The judge heard both sides at length. The appellate judge heard both sides at length," he said. "And they decided the temporary restraining order is appropriate.

Michael Cardozo, the city's chief lawyer, said this case is particularly concerning because it's "not going to be the last case involving layoffs" in the coming months. The city plans to propose state legislation that would require judges to demand a bond – right now judges have discretion – and would set limits on how long a temporary restraining order can last.

"How do you explain to anyone why in this kind of financial setting that a judge can not only second guess the mayor's economic decision, which the law says she can't do, but leaves the city absolutely remedy-less to do anything about it," Mr. Cardozo said.

"He's under obviously a lot of pressure to cut the budget," Mr. Cardozo said of the mayor. "And all this does is say if you try to cut the budget by laying people off the courts are going to stop you. And there's absolutely no basis."

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