A federal appeals court has temporarily barred the release of all NYPD disciplinary records as a lawsuit by cops seeking to prevent the information from going public under new legislation makes it way through the courts.
A three-judge panel on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled two-to-one on Thursday to reissue a stay on the documents. The ruling also holds up the release of records for firefighters and corrections officers who are also fighting to keep their personnel documents sealed.
Manhattan federal court Judge Katherine Polk Failla lifted the hold on the records on Aug. 21, ruling that almost disciplinary records should be public — even if the official had been cleared of any wrongdoing.
The legal battle between the city and the unions started in mid-July when the NYC officials announced a plan to publish police disciplinary records online following the repeal of the controversial 50a, which blocked the public from seeing allegations against an employee or how they played out.
The repeal was part of a police reform package signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
The attorneys representing roughly 60,000 union members have argued that any unproven allegations shouldn’t be disclosed because they can put cops at risk and affect their future job prospects.
Judge Failla shot down those claims in a scathing ruling late last month, saying, the records should be made public “with a very limited exception.”
The appeals court ruling came after two days of deliberation between the three judges.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Judge Dennis Jacobs pressed NYC attorneys as to why the court should rush a ruling and not let both sides have it out before a judge or an arbitrator, who can then decide on how to proceed.
“Why is this urgent?” Judge Dennis Jacobs asked.
Elina Druker, an attorney arguing for the city, responded, “it’s true that they were held secret for many, many years, but the legislature has clearly spoken.”
The dissenting vote from the panel came from Judge Gerard Lynch, who questioned the unions’ argument of irreparable injury if these documents were released.
“The cat is not only out of the bag it’s running the streets,” Lynch said referring to the data dump of the Civilian Complaint Review Board from ProPublica and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
Union attorney Tony Coles said in response that the now-public databases were only “a small part of all of the records that the city is intending to release.”
“Those records, in our view, in real-time, are creating damage to our clients, it some of the examples have already begun to percolate,” Coles continued.
Coles, however, failed to provide any examples when Lynch pressed.
Druker later used that to argue for the disclosure, highlighting Chicago, which has the courts have ruled are a “fair competitor to New York.”
“23,000 or more records online searchable and not a single case of a threat or harm,” she said.
In a statement, a spokesman for the unions said, “The battle to defend and protect public sector workers’ rights to due process continues.”
CCRB general counsel Matthew Kadushin called the ruling a “minor delay.”
“We are confident the Second Circuit will deny the unions’ appeal on the merits, and that the City will ultimately prevail in its defense of transparency,” Kadushin said.