Stop-frisk judge: 'I'm not their favorite'
The federal judge presiding over civil rights challenges to the stop-and-frisk practices of the New York Police Department has no doubt where she stands with the government.
"I know I'm not their favorite judge," U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin said during an Associated Press interview Friday. It was another moment of candor for a judge known for her call-it-as-she-sees-it manner and willingness to confront government lawyers in a courthouse where many judges -- former federal prosecutors themselves -- seem less inclined.
"I do think that I treat the government as only one more litigant," she said during the interview that proceeded with a single rule: no questions about the trial over police tactics that reaches closing arguments Monday.
The trial has put the NYPD and City Hall on the defensive as they justify a long-running policy of stopping, questioning and frisking some residents to deter crime. Critics say it discriminates against blacks and Hispanics.
Scheindlin is not being asked to ban the tactic, since it has been found to be legal, but she does have the power to order reforms in how it is implemented.
During the trial, she has shown an impatience with lawyers on both sides when they stray from the topic at hand, and a willingness to directly question witnesses -- including police supervisors -- about the nuts and bolts of trying to keep streets safe.
"I don't think they're entitled to deference," she said of government attorneys. "I think some of the judges are a little more timid to maybe disagree with the U.S. attorney's office. . . . They have to prove their case like anybody else. I don't give them special respect. Maybe some judges do because they came from the office, they know the people there, whatever. I try not to do that."
Scheindlin, 66, appointed by President Bill Clinton, has had plenty of high-profile cases in 19 years in federal court, including three trials of John "Junior" Gotti, the son of the late legendary mob boss John Gotti; two trials of a California student who knew two of the Sept. 11 hijackers and who was picked up as a material witness after his telephone number was found in a car that one of the hijackers drove to the airport; and the trial of international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Scheindlin has faced heat before, most notably a decade ago when she presided over the trials of student Osama Awadallah, and one newspaper labeled her "Osama's best friend," a reference that some could misinterpret to refer to Osama bin Laden.
"You could be in danger, physically," she said.