New York Times featuring David Rankin: “City is No Long Reporting the costs of Its Settlements of Federal Cases”
Colin Moynihan of The New York Times reports:
The New York City Law Department has quietly adopted a practice of withholding from public filings how much it pays to settle most federal court cases filed against the city or its employees.
Those amounts were once routinely included in documents placed into courthouse files, but about three years ago the agency began telling plaintiffs’ lawyers that the figures would be omitted from court filings as a condition of settling labor and employment cases. The policy was broadened in November to include lawsuits filed against members of the Police Department.
Law Department officials, who discussed the policy but did not agree to be quoted by name, acknowledged that in a majority of federal court cases that it settles, courthouse records no longer disclose how much the city paid out. The officials said that settlement amounts, however, remain available to those who file a Freedom of Information request or call the Law Department.
“We freely provide information about settlements upon request,” a Law Department spokeswoman, Kate O’Brien Ahlers, said. “That cooperation has always been forthcoming and will always be forthcoming.”
Some plaintiffs’ lawyers and civil liberties lawyers criticized the shift, saying the assistance of the city was now required to obtain information that could once be obtained without its knowledge or permission. Several of those lawyers contended that while the practice of keeping settlement amounts confidential was common in private practice, the city had a greater obligation to operate transparently.
“It is every New Yorker’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent,” said David B. Rankin, a lawyer who recently handled an unlawful-force case against the police in which the settlement was not disclosed in court filings. “And it is particularly important to know how that money is being spent when it is being used to compensate the victims of misconduct by our Police Department.”
Mr. Rankin said city lawyers had been making settlements contingent on acceptance of the new practice, adding that the department had apparently been “quite firm” on that point.
The article continues to quote other civil rights litigators as well as the City’s Law Department about the policy shift. Read the entire article at the New York Times.