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Judge in Stop-and-Frisk Case Booted

MANHATTAN (CN) - New York City police can resume stopping, questioning and frisking black and Latino men without the scrutiny of a court monitor or video footage, the 2nd Circuit ruled Thursday.

The three-page ruling unseats from the case the outspoken U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, whose press statements defending her handling of the case smacked of bias in the eyes of the appellate court.

In August, Scheindlin found that the NYPD trampled upon the rights of mostly black and Latino men by stopping, questioning and frisking them in droves without reasonable cause. The court heard statistics from Columbia University professor Jeffrey Fagan showing that the roughly 80 percent of the 4.4 million stops made between 2004 and 2012 targeted black and Latino New Yorkers and visitors.

She ended one of her rulings with a quotation from New York Times columnist Charles Blow: "The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies - like stop-and-frisk, and ... neighborhood watch -regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It's like burning down a house to rid it of mice."

Her ruling ordered police officers to wear video cameras while stopping and frisking suspects, document why they made every stop, and face the scrutiny of a court-appointed monitor on guard for racial profiling.

New York City lawyers called the measures intrusive and hoped to get rid of this oversight on appeal, and city officials attacked the judge's impartiality. The New York Daily News reported, as the trial was going on, that an internal document of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration allegedly found Scheindlin more likely to rule against the NYPD on constitutional issues than her colleagues on the bench.

Scheindlin responded to the accusations in interviews with the Associated Press, the New York Law Journal and the New Yorker.

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 2nd Circuit said that those statements violated the Code of Conduct of United States Judges to avoid the appearance of impartiality. The appellate panel also said Scheindlin improperly applied the "related case rule" that brought a series of stop-and-frisk related cases to her docket.

Scheindlin's rulings are now stayed pending further argument in appellate court and reassignment to another federal judge, the unsigned decision states.

The Center for Constitutional Rights said it was "shocked" that the court "cast aspersions on the professional conduct of one of the most respected members of the federal judiciary and reassigned the case."

"The city carried out a whisper campaign against Judge Scheindlin but never once raised any legal claims of bias, even in its papers to the Court of Appeals," the group said in a statement. "That, unprompted, they should reassign the case from a judge deeply steeped in the issues for the last 14 years, who gave the city every opportunity to defend itself in the course of this litigation, is troubling and unprecedented."

The New York City Law Department did not respond immediately to a request for comment. The city must refile its appeal on Jan. 24, 2014, and their challengers have until Feb. 28, 2014 to respond.

They will face off for more appellate argument on March 14, 2014.

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