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NYCLU Challenges City’s ‘Secret Court’

MANHATTAN (CN) - The New York City Transit Authority runs an illegal "secret court" that tries 20,000 people a year on charges leveled by NYPD officers, the New York Civil Liberties Union says in a federal lawsuit. The NYCLU says the secret court - the Transit Adjudication Bureau - is unconstitutional - and convicts 83% of the people who appear before it.

The complaint states: This civil rights action challenges the secrecy that surrounds the court that handles the hundreds of thousands of summonses issued by New York City Police Department officers to people using the New York City transit system. The court - the Transit Adjudication Bureau ('TAB'), which is operated by the New York City Transit Authority - holds over 20,000 hearings a year in which subway and bus riders face charges leveled by NYPD officers. Those hearings, however, are effectively closed to the public, as the TAB has a policy of barring access to any hearing unless the person charged with the offense consents to an outsider observing the hearing. As a result of this policy and the fact that TAB case records are exempt from the state Freedom of Information Law, the TAB essentially operates as a secret court, thereby shielding from public scrutiny the TAB's handling of NYPD summonses and the NYPD practices behind those summonses. ...

"The TAB has failed to promulgate rules or make public written information about how it conducts its hearings, leaving those issued summonses (and their attorneys if they have them) in the dark about how the TAB conducts its hearings. This failure, combined with figures indicating that the TAB enters judgments against those who challenge their summonses more than 83 percent of the time, raises serious concerns about the fairness of these proceedings. And, these concerns are exacerbated by figures indicating that black and Latino New Yorkers receive a disproportionate share of NYPD transit summonses.

"The TAB's policy of closing its hearings violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, federal common law, Article I Section 8 of the New York State Constitution, and the common law and public policy of the State of New York. Because the TAB has rejected the NYCL D's request that it open its hearings to the public, the NYCLU now seeks declaratory and injunctive relief against the TAB policy."

The NYCLU's lead attorneys are Christopher Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg.

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