A federal appeals court Thursday removed the judge who ordered reforms of the NYPD's controversial stop and frisk practices from the case in a ruling that generated legal and political shock waves by halting her plan for a judicial monitorship to oversee the police.
The three-judge Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel said U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin gave an appearance of bias by maneuvering to get the case and giving news interviews. It put her finding that the NYPD unconstitutionally targeted minorities for street stops on hold until a city appeal is heard in March.
"We conclude that the District Judge ran afoul of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, and that the appearance of impartiality surrounding this litigation was compromised," the panel wrote in a brief two-page order that told the lower federal court in Manhattan to reassign the case.
The stunning ruling was praised by police unions, Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota and the Bloomberg administration, which asked for the stay and has long criticized Scheindlin, saying she endangered public safety with an anti-police mindset. "We could not be more pleased," said Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo.
But mayoral front-runner Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who promises to reform stop and frisk and told the appeals judges the monitor was "in the public interest," said he was "extremely disappointed" by the ruling.
"We shouldn't have to wait for reforms that both keep our communities safe and obey the Constitution," de Blasio said. "Any delay only means a continued and unnecessary rift between our police and the people they protect."
Scheindlin, in an unusual response to the appellate ruling, said she had taken the stop-and-frisk case -- Floyd v. City of New York -- only because it was "related" to another case she was hearing in 2007. She rejected the panel's claim that she discussed it in interviews this summer.
"All of the interviews identified by the Second Circuit were conducted under the express condition that I would not comment on the Floyd case," she said. "And I did not."
In addition to staying the ruling, the appeals panel -- Judges Jose Cabranes, John Walker and Barrington Parker -- ordered that they would hear the appeal in March, rather than reassign it to a new set of three judges.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs who brought the stop-and-frisk case said they would try to get the full Court of Appeals to overturn the panel, describing the effort to disqualify Scheindlin -- a well-known, 19-year veteran of the bench with a reputation as a liberal judge -- as highly unusual and baseless. "We were shocked," said Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Scheindlin ruled in August, after a two-month trial, that the NYPD began acting without the "reasonable suspicion" required by the Constitution and targeting minorities as street stops spiraled sixfold under NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly's "proactive" policing approach.
In the news interviews criticized by the appeals judges, Scheindlin spoke to reporters after the Bloomberg administration leaked statistics on her rulings in an effort to show that she found against police more often than other federal judges.
She called the leak a "below-the-belt attack."
The panel also questioned comments Scheindlin made in 2007, when she told lawyers in a still-pending 1999 suit against the NYPD that if they filed a new stop-and-frisk case she would hear it under a court rule allowing judges to hear "related cases," sidestepping the usual random assignment process.
"What I am trying to say, I am sure I am going to get into trouble for saying it, for $65 you can bring that lawsuit," she said, according to the appeals decision.
The city had not challenged Scheindlin's assignment to the case or called for her disqualification. Cabranes raised the issues first in oral arguments Tuesday.
With Anthony M. DeStefano, Matthew Chayes and Emily Ngo