Challenge to NYPD Prosecutors Circles the Drain

MANHATTAN (CN) — A pair of Black Lives Matter protesters stumbled at a hearing Friday in their bid to show that there is a conflict of interest in having police officials act as prosecutors in New York City.

Arminta Jeffryes and Cristina Winsor each received summonses for petty violations at a March 2016 demonstration. While Jeffryes was cited for cross the street against a steady “Don’t Walk” sign, Winsor allegedly walked in the roadway when a sidewalk was available.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office typically handles these types of summonses themselves, but prosecutors delegated these women’s cases to lawyers working for the New York City Police Department.

Attorneys for the women have objected to District Attorney Cy Vance’s policy, but so far their challenge has proved unsuccessful. They sued late last year after an adverse ruling by Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Guy Mitchell.

Though their attorneys saw plenty of sympathy Friday at a two-hour civil hearing before Judge Lucy Billings, the protesters appear doomed for another defeat.

“Maybe you’d be entitled to pursue that relief, if you didn’t pursue it elsewhere first,” Billings said.

Civil rights attorney Martin Stoler insisted that the two cases were different.

“We never asked Judge Mitchell to dismiss the case,” said Stoler, from the National Lawyers Guild. “We asked him to disqualify the police department from the case.”

Stoler’s co-counsel Jonathan Wallace chimed in, saying that the case does not belong in the hands of a “highly conflicted prosecutor who shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

“I agree with those arguments,” Judge Billings said flatly, but she added that her court was not the place to raise them.

If convicted, the women will have the opportunity to challenge that system again in an intermediate appeals court.

New York City Law Department attorney Adam Moss said that Jeffryes and Winsor will have due process.

“Nobody’s trying to prevent petitioners from having their day in court,” he said. “The problem is, they’re trying to have their day in multiple courts here.”

Though apparently swaying the judge with that argument, Moss made no progress persuading the judge about the fairness of the system.

“Obviously, we disagree that there’s a conflict of interest,” he said.

Billings agreed when Stoler called such a conflict “apparent.”

“You don’t have to convince me of that,” she said. “I’m convinced.”

Even if her remarks from the bench left little doubt about her leanings, Billings ended the hearing without issuing a ruling.

Jeffryes and Winsor, who are also represented by attorneys Gideon Orion Oliver and Elena Cohen, will head to criminal court again on June 26.

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