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Pro Bono Clients Obtain Victory in Major Ruling on Trespass Arrests

As widely reported in media outlets including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, Paul, Weiss, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and The Legal Aid Society won a major ruling from Federal District Judge Shira Sheindlin in a lawsuit brought against the City of New York and the New York City Housing Authority on behalf of a putative class of NYCHA residents and their invited guests who have been unlawfully stopped and arrested for trespass on NYCHA property. The lawsuit challenges policies and practices of the NYPD and NYCHA which have resulted in the unconstitutional and racially discriminatory enforcement of trespass laws in public housing in New York City.

In denying in large part motions for summary judgment by the City and NYCHA on the stop and arrest claims of the named plaintiffs, Judge Scheindlin asked whether "defendants [are] acting within constitutional limits in their presumably sincere efforts to provide a safe environment for the residents of public housing? Or, in their zeal to provide that protection, are they violating the rights of the very residents (and guests) whom they seek to protect?" Judge Scheindlin considered that question as applied to Roman Jackson, a named plaintiff and Bowdoin College graduate, who was frisked and arrested for trespassing as he sat with a friend in the stairwell of his own residence. Although Mr. Jackson explained that he lived in the building, he and his friend were ordered up against the wall, frisked and then arrested. Judge Scheindlin allowed Mr. Jackson's arrest claim to go forward, holding that the "prohibition on 'loitering' by a resident is unconstitutionally vague."

In an editorial regarding the case on October 8, The New York Times urged a resolution of this and related litigation to "ensure that its policies adhere to Fourth Amendment guarantees of freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. . . In their excessive zeal, the police are undermining respect for the law in the very communities where residents' cooperation is most needed and abridging the rights of people they are supposed to protect."

Since the lawsuit was originally brought in January 2010, trespass arrests have steeply declined. In addition, prompted in part by this lawsuit, the Bronx District Attorney's Office earlier this year conducted an investigation of trespass arrests made in the Bronx and found that persons arrested for trespass were either legitimate tenants or invited guests. As a result, the Bronx DA's Office announced that it would no longer prosecute public housing trespass cases unless the arresting officer appears to be interviewed by an ADA. Nine of the original eighteen named plaintiffs have settled with the City for awards totaling more than $170,000.

The Paul, Weiss team includes litigation associates Katharine Brooker, Benjamin Chapin, Agnetha Jacob, Jacob Lillywhite, Jason Meizlish, Matthew Moses, Angela Shannon and James Stanley; and litigation partners Michele Hirshman and Daniel Leffell.

October 11, 2012

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