2019 Annual Report

New York City Law Department
Year In Review 2019

James E. Johnson, Corporation Counsel
New York City Law Department, 100 Church Street, New York, NY 10007

Georgia Pestana - First Assistant Corporation Counsel
Muriel Goode-Trufant - Managing Attorney
Steven Stein Cushman - Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Commercial Law
Richard Dearing - Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel & Chief of Appeals
Thomas Giovanni - Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel for Government Policy and Chief of Staff
Stephen Louis - Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel & Chief of Legal Counsel
Stuart Smith - Executive Assistant Corporation Counsel of Legal Recruitment & Development

For more information, visit our website: www.nyc.gov/law


With offices in all five boroughs and Kingston, New York, the New York City Law Department handles over 80,000 active or ongoing legal matters each year. In addition to litigating cases, attorneys draft and review local and State legislation; approve leases, contracts and financial instruments for the sale of municipal bonds; negotiate and structure business transactions; and provide legal counsel to City officials on a wide range of issues, such as immigration, education, judicial election reform and environmental policy. Listed below are some major issues and matters handled by the various Law Department divisions in 2019.

"I proudly share the first Annual Report under my tenure," Corporation Counsel Jim Johnson said. "As the new year begins, we continue coming together and embracing the excellence and dedication that's always defined our Department."

We owe gratitude to all those, both here and throughout municipal government, who keep the City running," he added. "We know New Yorkers depend on the Law Department's opinions, guidance and hard work – and we strive not only to meet, but to exceed, these high expectations and standards. In my entire career, I've rarely encountered such a group of dedicated professionals. Our commitment to public service is paramount. We never waver in that endeavor. As an office that embraces the law and justice, we're privileged and honored to serve you."


Legal Divisions

Administrative Law & Regulatory Litigation

Division Chief: Sheryl Neufeld | Deputy Chief: Michelle Goldberg-Cahn

  • Public Health Crisis – Measles: Worked on initiatives and orders to assist with containing the highly-contagious measles outbreak and successfully defended the City's policies and directive in court challenge to the City-issued Orders.
  • Accessible Curb Ramps: Resolved long standing class actions pertaining to wheelchair accessible sidewalks, creating a robust program for surveying all of the City's streets and upgrading the curb ramps to provide access for mobility impaired individuals.
  • For-Hire Vehicle License Cap: Successfully defended several challenges to the City's first of its kind limitation on the issuance of new licenses for For-Hire Vehicles.
  • Subsidized Housing Policies for Domestic Violence Survivors: Crafted new policies for the processing of subsidized housing vouchers for survivors of domestic violence who may not be listed as the benefit recipient in resolving litigation challenging prior policies.
  • Red Light Camera Challenges: Litigated numerous challenges to the City's public safety red light camera initiative.

Affirmative Litigation

Division Chief: Gail Rubin | Deputy Chief: Eric Proshansky & Tonya Jenerette

  • Voter Assistance: Prevailed in challenge to City-sponsored interpreters on Election Day to increase voter participation, obtaining a declaration that the program stationing interpreters inside poll site buildings does not violate state or federal law.

  • Immigrant & Health Care Rights: Stopped, as part of a coalition before the U.S. District Courts, the expanded federal "refusal of care" rule that required employers – on pain of losing federal funding – to allow individual health care providers to deny medical care for religious reasons or based on other personal views; and challenged federal changes to the "public charge" rule making it harder for immigrants who are poor or need government help to secure residency and stay in the country.

  • Floating Billboards: Banned floating digital billboard company from operating water-based ads on state and city waterways, in defiance of laws furthering traffic safety and waterfront enjoyment.
  • Ice Cream Trucks: Obtained attachment order for Sheriff to seize 46 ice cream trucks where City alleged fraudulent transfers made to interfere with the City's collection of over $4 million in parking-ticket judgments.

Appeals Division

Division Chief: Richard Dearing | Deputy Chief: Claude Platton & Devin Slack

  • Cigarette Trafficking: Persuaded the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that UPS violated federal anti-cigarette trafficking law and state public health law by shipping contraband cigarettes into New York City.

  • Landmarks Preservation: Secured ruling from the New York Court of Appeals upholding the Landmark Preservation Commission's approval of a far-reaching landmark restoration project in lower Manhattan.
  • For-Hire Vehicle Advertising: Fended off a First Amendment challenge to the Taxi and Limousine Commission's ban on advertising in for-hire vehicles in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

  • Amicus Briefs: Filed amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Court of Appeals, and other courts on topics ranging from federal safeguards against sexual orientation- and gender identity-discrimination to the constitutionality of local pedestrian safety laws.

Commercial & Real Estate Litigation

Division Chief: Nancy Brodie | Deputy Chiefs: Richard Schulsohn & Robert Funkhouser

  • Protected Public Safety on Party Boats: Upheld NYCEDC's right to exclude from City docks party boat operators with safety and rules violations by defeating a preliminary injunction motion challenging permit termination and winning an order directing boat removal.
  • Advanced City-Owned Property Development: Supported NYCEDC's ability to proceed on its own to construct a critically needed outdoor public space in Downtown Brooklyn by defeating a developer's Article 78 challenge of NYCEDC's decision to terminate discussions with the developer based on its failure to meet required terms and conditions.
  • Ensured Continued MTA Bus Access: Preserved MTA's uninterrupted access to City-owned Yonkers bus depot by obtaining favorable settlement of litigation relating to adjacent development project.
  • Favorably Resolved Construction Claim: Protected the public fisc by completing a favorable settlement shortly before trial of a case arising from Hurricane Sandy damage.
  • Defeated Contractor's Challenge of Default: Vindicated a city agency's right to default a contractor for delays and deficient performance on a water treatment plant project by defeating a contractor's Article 78 challenge.
  • Upheld Contract Award: Protected New York City Deferred Compensation Plan's award of recordkeeping services contract to a new low-cost vendor by defeating the incumbent vendor's multi-faceted challenges.

Contracts & Real Estate

Division Chief: Amrita Prabhakar Barth | Deputy Chief: Isabel Galis-Menendez

  • Census: Worked with NYC Census in its efforts to encourage every New York City resident to participate in the 2020 Census. This included, among other efforts, working with CUNY in facilitating the work of multiple community-based organizations and otherwise promoting the Census.
  • HPD Regulatory Agreements: Worked with the City's Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) to revise its forms of regulatory agreements, deeds and other documents to allow more flexibility and efficiency in documenting participation in different HPD programs.
  • Amendment of PPB Rules: Worked with the Legal Counsel Division, the Mayor's Office of Contract Services and the New York City Comptroller's office to draft amendments to the Procurement Policy Board Rules implementing new State legislation allowing the City to enter into contracts with Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprises for less than $500,000 without public bidding.

Economic Development

Division Chief: Betty Woo | Deputy Chief: Kim Bryan

  • Bedford Union Armory: Closed on the sale and leasing of the Armory site in Brooklyn for a mixed-use redevelopment project that will include affordable housing and recreational facilities.
  • NYC Tech Hub: Leased former P.C. Richard & Son site on East 14th Street in Union Square for construction of new commercial tower that will include digital job training facilities and flexible office space for tech startups.
  • New Essex Street Market: Acquired commercial condominium as part of the City's Essex Crossing development for use as the New Essex Street Market which includes 39 market stalls, demonstration kitchen and two restaurants.
  • Beach 21st Street Lease: Redevelopment of former bus parking site for mixed-use project that will include affordable housing, retail and community facilities space as part of the City's efforts to revitalize Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens.

Environmental Law

Division Chief: Hilary Meltzer | Deputy Chief: Chris Reo

  • Resiliency Projects: Advised agencies on several projects to make areas of the City more resilient to sea level rise, including the Rockaways, the South Shore of Staten Island, and the East Village/Lower East Side.
  • Supporting Shelter Goals: Advised on environmental and equity issues and defended several challenges to homeless shelters.
  • Challenges to Federal Regulatory Rollbacks: Joined coalitions of states and cities in numerous lawsuits challenging the federal government's rollbacks of environmental protections, including greenhouse gas and other air pollution regulations.
  • Solid Waste Equity Litigation: Successfully defended the City's regulatory program to ensure that waste transfer stations are equitably distributed throughout the City.
  • Transportation Innovations: Advised and successfully defended several initiatives to improve safety and transportation efficiency, including several bike lanes and the 14th Street Truck and Transit Priority program.
  • Superfund: Advised City agencies and worked with the federal government on investigations and remediation of four federal NYC Superfund sites, with the goals of preserving the City's remaining industrial waterways, and protecting public health.

Family Court

Division Chief: Angela Albertus | First Deputy Chief: Jennifer Gilroy Ruiz | Deputies: Rosemarie Peyton, Aimee Sklar-Calogero & Jessica Latour, Jessica

  • Juvenile Delinquency Prosecution: Promoted juvenile rehabilitation and continued to balance the needs and best interests of juveniles with the need to protect the community. Enhanced prosecution of serious felony matters through housing staff in the Youth Parts and working directly with the District Attorneys' offices. Continued to focus on victims of crime by providing immediate support to them in both navigating multiple agencies and in providing services.
  • Raise the Age (RTA) Implementation: Implemented Phase Two of RTA incorporating 17-year-old youths into the juvenile justice practice, working closely with all City stakeholders in an effort to accomplish a seamless transition of cases from the Youth Parts to the Family Courts. Continued to enhance the Division practice in all areas of concentration by adding diversified staff to the Division especially in the expansion of programming for older and marginalized youth and partnering with community-based organizations. Staff remain assigned to weekend and evening court to ensure youth have an expedited appearance before a judge to reduce detention time.
  • Interstate Child Support: Established orders of parentage and child support, pursued modification and enforcement of existing child support orders on behalf of City residents and out-of-state families. Completed the decentralization of outgoing case processing by expanding to the Bronx office and, as a result, improved services to local parents city wide. Developed in-house legal and skills trainings for attorneys and support professionals and embraced opportunities to share trainings with other jurisdictions.
  • Community Outreach and Diversion: The Division increased community outreach and diversion for youth. Our diversion team has identified additional community resources; allowing for a greater number of youth to be diverted away from the formal court process and engage in programs with a restorative aspect. Partnerships were fostered with several middle schools with updated presentations to the students and educators on safety when using social media and bullying.

General Litigation

Division Chief: Thomas Crane | Deputy Chiefs: Marilyn Richter & Jonathan Pines

  • Homeless and Runaway Youth: Entered into settlement agreement agreeing to maintain present level of services and to establish disciplinary procedures.
  • Hospital Conditions: Facilitated successful completion of Court monitoring of conditions at Kings County Hospital Behavioral Health Services Unit.
  • Specialized DOE High School: Defended a challenge to revisions to admission standards.
  • Polling Site Accessibility: Brought to successful completion court oversight of settlement which required implementation of accessibility standards at voting sites.

Labor & Employment Law

Division Chief: Eric Eichenholtz | Deputy Chiefs: Paul Marks & Andrea O'Connor

  • Fire Department Climate Survey: Worked with the Fire Department, the Mayor's Office of Operations, the Mayor's Office of Data Analytics and DCAS to administer the first ever Climate Survey to Firefighters, an important step to continuing the Fire Department's commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Rethinking City Employment Policies: Worked with agency Commissioners, General Counsels and their staffs to revise employment policies and adapt to new trends in employment law law, including ongoing #MeToo and #Times Up as well as human rights workplace developments.
  • Office of Labor Relations Assistance: Liaise with the Office of Labor Relations and advise it on issues and matters involving labor relations between the City and its unions.

Legal Counsel

Division Chief: Stephen Louis | Deputy Chiefs: Martha Mann Alfaro & Spencer Fisher

  • 2019 Charter Revision Commission: Counseled the 2019 Charter Revision Commission, which was created by local law, on its revisions (later adopted by the voters) concerning subjects such as agency governance, budgeting and Civilian Complaint Review Board reform. Notably, agency attorneys were deeply involved in drafting new ranked choice voting provisions that have been used in the 2021 primaries for City offices.
  • Commercial Waste Zones: Worked closely with City agencies and the City Council to finalize extensive legislation to reform the regulatory scheme governing the commercial trade waste system, including a transition to a new system of commercial waste zones, with each zone served by selected carters.
  • Lead Paint Legislation: Worked with City agencies and the City Council to reform the City's lead paint laws with the goal of making them some of the most protective in the country, by requiring the full abatement of lead in schools and setting a path to substantially lower the legal threshold for lead.
  • Specialized High Schools: Worked closely with litigators to defend the change in criteria for, and expansion of, the Discovery Program for entrance to the City's specialized high schools.
  • Climate Change: Worked with agencies and the Council to enact a nationally recognized climate mobilization package that new limits on building greenhouse gas emissions that become stricter over time, taking an important step toward the City's larger goal of reducing overall emissions by 80 percent by 2050.
  • Hairstyle Discrimination: Worked with the Labor & Law Employment Division and the City Commission on Human Rights to prepare guidance about how the City's Human Rights Law protects individuals against discrimination based on their hairstyle. The guidance, which applies to employers, and providers of public accommodations and housing, explains that the law protects the rights of individuals to wear natural hairstyles as well as styles associated with their race, ethnicity or cultural identity.

Municipal Finance

Division Chief: Albert Rodriguez | Deputy Chief: Michael Moore

  • Bond Transactions: Provided legal services on 77 discrete City bond transactions totaling approximately $24.1 billion to fund or refinance City capital projects.
  • Bond Refinancing: Refunded bonds (in approximately eight of the 42 bond transactions) previously issued, resulting in savings of about $836 million over the City's Four-Year Financial Plan.
  • Property Assessed Clean Energy Retrofits (PACE) Program: Worked with other City agencies to establish the PACE program, a financing vehicle that offers commercial building owners up to 100 percent funding for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The owners would repay the funding through quarterly property assessments incorporated in the property's City property tax bill.
  • Renewable Energy Procurement: Assisted other City agencies in analyzing renewable energy options to meet the City's carbon reduction goals.

Special Federal Litigation

Division Chief: Patricia Miller | Deputy Chiefs: Frances Sands, Peter Farrell, & Elizabeth Dollin

  • Trial Success: Continued Special Fed's Trial Initiative success; tried 42 cases in the calendar year, with win a rate of 84 percent.
  • New Filings Down: Continued maintaining a drop in new filings (down about 75 percent) since the launching of the Trial Initiative, combining more aggressive litigation and settlement approaches.
  • Complex Litigation: Handled multiple class-action cases seeking institutional reform and/or damages for alleged violations of constitutional rights. Resolved major cases concerning reversals of criminal convictions.

Tax & Bankruptcy Litigation

Division Chief: Vincent D'Orazio | Deputy Chiefs: Rochelle Cohen & Andrea Chan

  • Dismissal of Challenge to Valuation of Special Franchise Property: Intervened as a party of interest in Con Edison's challenge to the state's valuation of its special franchise property constituting the public grid. A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, Third Department affirmed the dismissal by the lower court of proceedings filed for tax years 2009/10 through 2012/13 for Con Edison's failure to timely file Notes of Issue. The dismissal saved the City approximately $375 million.
  • Eminent Domain Used in Resiliency Efforts: Acquired title by eminent domain to nearly 200 vacant properties in the South Beach, Oakwood Beach, and New Creek watersheds in Staten Island for DEP's Bluebelt Program. The Bluebelt Program will preserve and enhance these acquired properties to provide comprehensive storm water management and reduce chronic street and property flooding in Staten Island over several decades.
  • REITS: Had a Property Transfer Tax Deficiency of $9.4 Million Dollars plus interest sustained by Appellate Division, First Department.
  • Bankruptcy Dismissal: Obtained the dismissal of a suit filed in bankruptcy court in Florida seeking $60 million in damages. In a bankruptcy case pending in Florida, Plaintiff filed an adversary proceeding against the City seeking $60 million in damages for continuous trespass and a declaration that the City had improperly assessed its real property for tax purposes since 1987 through the current tax year.

Tort

Division Chief: Fay Leoussis |Deputy Chiefs: Jenny Montana-O'Connor, Lavanya Pisupati, Andrew Potak, David Santoro & Nancy Savasta | Director of Personnel Management: LaVonne Pridgen

  • Motion Practice Accomplishments: Achieved another successful year for Tort motion practice in FY 2019. (Note: Stats are compiled through the financial year.) With over 7,400 new cases commenced, it's critical that dispositive motions to dismiss are pursued. Approximately 1,363 affirmative dispositive motions were made and, of those decided, the Division secured a 75-percent win rate.
  • Medicare Reporting: Continued a "platinum standard of practice" via the Medicare Compliance and Recovery Unit regarding Medicare (MCRU) reporting and reimbursement. MCRU has collected more than $2.2 million in Medicare reimbursements in 2019, for a grand total of $18 million collected since 2011. This included no judgments entered against the City for non-payment of Medicare settlements.
  • Training: An enhanced CLE accredited Fall Tort Division Training program was created for new attorneys – which now provides 57 different courses over a three-and-a-half month period. In addition, enhanced interactive In-House Trial Training was provided for second-year ACCs that addressed all aspects of trial, including but not limited to, how to effectively prepare a case for trial, jury selection, motions in limine, opening statements, how to admit evidence at trial - - hearsay, non-party discovery, direct- and cross-examination of lay and expert witnesses, closing arguments, preservation of the record and post-verdict motion practice.

Workers' Compensation

Division Chief: Mindy Roller | Deputy Chief: Paul Zaragoza

  • Received, processed and managed 19, 339 new work related accident claims from municipal employees. Represented the City at 15,314 administrative hearings before the Workers' Compensation Board. Provided $401.2 million in wage replacement and paid $68.4 million for medical care.
  • Archived revenue recovery of $10.9 million asserting third party liens, intercompany transfer arbitration and reimbursement through the State Second injury Fund.
  • Made significant progress toward completing the upgrade of the division's current claim processing system. The new system will provide web-based access. It will also simplify and streamline all aspects of claims management.
  • Continued outreach to clients agencies and emphasized the importance to injured workers and to the City of timely filing and compliance with the requirements of the Workers' Compensation Board.

Support Divisions

Administration

Division Chief: Kenneth Majerus| Deputy Chief: Jennie Nagle

  • Encumbrance Control Unit: Recorded nearly 27,839 expense records for budget purposes, representing nearly $44 million in spending.
  • Fiscal Unit: Processed nearly $102.4M in vouchered payments for the Department to thousands of vendors.
  • New Space Acquisition: Completed move in at three sites and completed construction of one additional site, representing an increase in office space of approximately 141,500 sq. ft.
  • Technology: Launched the roll-out of iPhones to Legal staff, deploying over 116 new phones with Law Department email and calendar and fully compliant with DoITT installation standards, along with another 30 upgraded devices that were ordered and issued.
  • Temporary Leased Space: Moved the Brooklyn Tort Verticalization team out of 1 MetroTech center into permanent space, and backfilled that temporary office space at 1 MetroTech Center with Family Court Phase I Raise the Age staff, who will remain until renovation at 350 Jay Street is completed.

E-Discovery Group

Director: Ken Becker | Deputy Director: Sandra Metallo-Barragan

  • E-Discovery Services: Provided information, guidance, and technical services to support Law Department attorneys in all aspects of the discovery of electronic evidence in litigation and in response to governmental investigations and FOIL requests.
  • Empowering Attorneys: Enabled the City's litigators to comply with their e-discovery obligations in more than 200 cases.

Information Technology

Chief Information Officer: Edwin Francisque

  • Helpdesk, New Computers: Answered more than 22,000 support calls. Deployed computers at all new sites. Provided computer maintenance and support to 2500-plus agency computers.
  • Offices: Upgraded slower data circuits to the agency current speed, improving overall end-user experience. Therefore, improving access to the shared data for other agencies.
  • Remote Connectivity: Migrated Citrix environment on to High-Availability platform. Preparing existing Netscalers to be migrated in to DoITT virtual environment.
  • Automation, Software: Automated Family Court and Tort Division processes through Instaknow software; also upgraded frequently used office-wide software applications.
  • Infrastructure: IT completed pre-staging new network hardware for agency wide refresh. The new Cisco platform will improve overall network performance; improve security and monitoring identifying abnormal activities on the agency network as well as protecting network traffic that come from Law in to the CityNet.

Litigation Support & Information Management

Division Chief: John Hupper | Deputy Chief: Beth Nedow | Director: Patty DeLisa

  • Practice Management: Published basic case-related data about our civil litigation dating back to 1960 pursuant to the City's Open Data Law. Migrated over 100 users into the iManage document management system. Successfully implemented the second portion of Raise the Age in the matter management system and generated over 1000 production reports on regular schedules and over 1400 civil lawsuit checks for various City, State and Federal prosecutor and/or investigative offices.
  • On-Site, Agency-Based Discovery Staff: Continued to provide on-site support by conducting searches in response to discovery requests at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Parks Department. Continued to provide support to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to facilitate discovery requests and to the Department of Education (DOE) to conduct searches in response to discovery requests. Continued training and management of temporary staff placed on-site staff at DOT.
  • Information Governance: Began roll-out of access for Family Court and Tort to the New York City Police Department (NYPD) body-worn camera videos, via Evidence.com.

Operations

Division Chief: Jonathan Pinn | Deputy Chief: Omer Soykan

  • Operations: Opened in May of 2019 an additional Central Services office to more quickly respond to needs of clients in the Bronx. In CY 2019, 745 invoices (for copying, process service, language services etc.) were reviewed, verified and/or corrected and authorized representing a 15% increase over prior year. Well over 2,000 reports (Agency Reports, Statements of Costs etc.) and contact lists were generated and distributed by Operations in cy 2019.
  • Communications & Docketing and Central Services: Handled and processed 8 percent more mail than prior year at nearly 6,000 buckets of mail.
  • Document & Data Processing: Handled nearly 6,700 requests (8% more than prior year) for data entry, typing, proofing and language services, and began facilitating video editing services. Facilitated 20% more requests for interpreters than had been requested in prior year.
  • Duplication & Finishing: Responded to nearly 9,500 requests resulting in over 9.1 million pages and, since taking on the responsibility part way through 2010, produced nearly 50,000 copies of CD and DVD ROMs.
  • Process & Couriers: Responded to 26,000 requests to serve, file, deliver and pick-up. Noteworthy here is that PCS staff serviced 3 additional Law Department locations in cy2019.
  • Electronic Information Group: Processed over 180,000 Electronic Case File e-mails; administered just shy of 8,000 Tort answers.
  • Training Unit: Held 270 training sessions; nearly 2,000 staff attended classes offered and facilitated by the Training Unit, which represents a 3-percent increase from prior year.

Law Library

Director: Tracy Paler

  • Research: Offered both traditional and non-traditional research for divisions and agencies, including compiling legislative histories and exploring complex legal issues.
  • Social Media & Background Investigations: Conducted investigations into the social media presence of various individuals and agencies with dealings with the Law Department.
  • Information Resources: Provided access to crucial online legal resources as well as invaluable print texts.
  • Training: Conducted trainings on emerging online legal research tools and social media investigations for staff in all five boroughs.

Legal Recruitment

Director: Stuart Smith | Deputy Director: Lillian Evans

  • Experienced Attorney Hiring: Recruited 82 experienced attorneys to work in 16 different divisions.
  • Entry-Level Hiring: Hired 65 recent law school graduates from 26 law schools to work in 9 different divisions.
  • Summer Program: Hosted 57 Summer Honors law student interns who gained hands-on legal experience.

Press Office & Internal Communications

Public Affairs Director & Press Secretary: Nicholas Paolucci | Internal Communications /Special Projects Director: Kate O'Brien Ahlers

  • Media & Public Affairs: Addressed queries to journalists and promoted the office's news developments. Worked with City Hall on initiatives and responded to public inquiries.
  • Internal Comms & Projects: Shared internal office updates with staff and handled evolving special projects, including tag-teaming with divisions officewide on training, new initiatives, etc.

Professional & Organizational Development

Director: June Witterschein | Deputy Director: John Campbell

  • Lateral Attorney Updates: Further refined the onboarding process for our laterals. Worked on enhanced communications during orientation; also continued programs like panel events.
  • Continuing Legal Education: Built out our educational library even further, addressing trending topics in bias elimination, diversity and inclusion, and related areas.
  • Divisional Growth: Partnered with chiefs, deputies and division members to amplify on trainings available to laterals.