Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Law
by Margaret Reuter,
Center for New York City Law at New York Law School
The topic: "NYC Law" refers to the legal and juridical dimensions of City
public policy. What do the laws say? How have they been interpreted? What
is the relationship between laws as written and rules as enforced?
The context: The sheer size of NYC government requires its extensive legal
involvement in countless issues. Over 700 attorneys are employed in the
Office of the Corporation Counsel alone. Every major and minor public
policy issue has a legal dimension. On some issues ≠ Charter revision or
campaign finance limits, for example ≠ the legal dimension is paramount.
The reporter: Margaret Reuter, better known as Meg, is the managing
editor of City Law, the bi-monthly journal on City legal developments
published by the Center for New York City Law. She also serves as an
adjunct professor at New York Law School. She is reachable at
Meg's Top Sites For Beginners:
Center for New York City Law - The site excerpts select
reports from each issue of City Law, a monthly journal published by the
Center. Critiques of nearly 40 City government-oriented websites (with
links). Recommended: analysis of 1989 charter mandate that the City annually
assess the condition of its bridges, libraries, public schools, police
stations and the like.
Commission - The
commission has completed its work. The site now contains the Final Report,
the Ballot Question, and the Summary of the Proposals, all in pdf format.
City Council - Besides profiling its members, the
site allows the user to search local laws and explains how a bill becomes
law. Searches for local laws and bills have some limitations. For instance
a search for "lead-based paint" produced the recent local law, backed by the
administration, but not the competing bill offered by council member
New York City's Law
Department - Part of the City's comprehensive NYCLink the site
provides descriptions of the work of each division. Highlights include the
City's 1997 complaint challenging the constitutionality of the federal line
item veto, in PDF format, and former Corporation Counsel Paul Crotty's case
for tort reform.
New York Law Journal - Best feature: access to full text
versions of most cases reported in its pages, most of which are never
reported anywhere else (such as on westlaw or lexis). Retrieve and print
out the cases reported in the Law Journal by picking "courts on nylj.com"
and searching by court. This is a real service, given that compiling your
own archive of these decisions had been an arduous task of cutting, pasting,
and photocopying. Good links to all kinds of law, business, university, and
government related sites.
In the News: Whistleblowing--is it safe?
A number of decisions have been handed down recently regarding New York
City employees who were forced to resign, demoted or denied promotions
allegedly because they had reported misdeeds or abuses within their
agency--whistleblowing. A quick review provides some insights.
Most-likely-to-succeed award goes to: Former employees who claimed they
were the victims of retaliation for exercising free speech rights to
criticize and report wrong-doing. Employees from Off-Track Betting and the
Transit Authority (with more than 20 years tenure each) complained to his
respective inspector general about abuses. Each was forced to resign; each
sued in federal court, and in each case the court noted the important first
amendment interest in protecting the employees from retaliation when they
A less sanguine result: A Department of Environmental Protection watershed
enforcement officer, who was publicly vocal about the City's failings in
protecting the watershed was denied a promotion. He sued in state court
under the state Whistleblower's Protection Law (Labor Law ß740(2)(b)) and
lost. The law protects limited categories of criticism--such as testimony.
The employee had testified before City Council, but that was in 1991. His
more recent criticisms were provided to environmental activist groups like
the Hudson Riverkeeper, a type of "whistleblowing" not protected by the
A gratifying result: A DOT employee also reported to the inspector general
concerns about contracting irregularities. He was later demoted, and
complained again. The inspector general concluded the employee's promotion
was retaliatory. The employee and the court forced the inspector general to
turn over confidential records.
Association of the Bar of the City of New York- Site of the
City Bar, organization highlighting its recently issued reports. Now
playing: the full text of a report on the City's enormous tort case backlog
(more than 62,000 cases) by the Council on Judicial Administration. They
critique City efforts in addressing the problem against formidable odds.
The site also includes an impressive list of pro bono opportunities for
lawyers and law students.
City Council - Besides
profiling its members, the site allows the user to search local laws
and explains how a bill becomes law.
The Constitution Society - The Liberty
Library has more than 100 classic essays on constitutional government in
html, text and pdf format. Features such profound works as Machiavelli's
The Prince, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, and the Constitutional Ratification
Documents at Columbia Univ. - This site links to
scores of City related sites and guides users through Columbia's substantial
collection of NYC-related materials by category.
Independent Budget Office - One of the illuminating
features of the site: It will calculate exactly how your tax payments are
divided up and spent at each level of government (city, state, and federal)
both by broad category and by selected programs. Just input your taxes
paid and adjusted income from your tax returns (or you can just estimate
them, of course), and it will calculate the results.
Public Advocate - The chock-full site of Public
Advocate Mark Green -- a good place to look to measure the worth of the office
that Mayor Giuliani has targeted for abolition.
Citizens Budget Commission -
Features recent research
papers of the CBC. The latest: comparing the competitiveness of the NYC
metro region's transportation infrastructure -- the City's highway and mass
transit systems -- to LA, Chicago, Tokyo, London, and Paris.
Meg Sounds Off:
Whistleblowing is a time-honored tradition. How else can we learn of
corruption and abuses beyond the reach of the press and watchdog groups?
Case in point: the Police Department's lack of whistleblowing tradition is
perhaps at the core of its tarnished image, as denoted by the phrase "blue
wall of silence." Standard operating procedure is to report misfeasance to
the agency's inspector general, whose mission is to investigate and ferret
out such problems. Reports to the inspector general also offer the
likelihood of confidentiality. Conversations with the agency general
counsel, however, are not necessarily protected, as different legal and
ethical obligations are pertinent. Since employees are not officially a
"client," so the attorney-client confidentiality privileges do not apply.