"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 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.
Margaret Reuter 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
by Margaret Reuter
Queens Quibbles: Queen Catherine, The Slave Trade and a Litigious Sculptor
(June '01) Catherine of Braganza was the seventeenth-century Princess of
Portugal who became Queen of England when she married to King
Charles II, who then honored her by naming Queens after her when
England took New Amsterdam from the Dutch in 1683. To honor her in
the twentieth century, the non-profit group, Friends of Queen Catherine,
raised over $2 million from the government of Portugal, the Bank of
Portugal and private donors to erect a monument to her, to be
prominently placed at Hunters Point on the East River, viewable from the
United Nations. After holding an international competition, Friends
selected Audrey Flack, a distinguished artist known for her sculptures of
women and goddesses, to create Queen Catherine's monument. Flack
agreed to create three increasingly larger preliminary sculptures (22", 44",
and 10') leading up to a final 35-foot tall bronze casting of Queen
Catherine. It was to be the second tallest statue in the City, standing
about a third the height of the Statue of Liberty.
That all came on the heels of Catherine's 350th birthday, in 1988,
in which Friends sponsored a major gala attended by the Mayor and the
Duke of Portugal. Since then, the project has fallen prey to political
correctness, followed by contracting disputes, ill treatment of the models
for the sculpture, and federal litigation.
Friends contracted with a foundry, Tallix, to cast Flack's work.
As Flack prepared finishing touches to the hands, curls, lace collar and
skirts for the final model, hue and cry broke out that the Queen's
husband, Charles II, was said to have profited from the slave trade.
Although it became apparent that Catherine herself had no active role in
the slave trade, Borough President Claire Shulman became concerned
about the public criticism and withdrew her support for the project. See
Flack's web site at
www.audreyflack.com or go
here for a
photograph of Flack's maquette.
The project quickly unraveled. The foundry withdrew from the
contract and removed the model to their yard, where left to the elements,
the face suffered significant damage. Tallix and Friends renegotiated a
new contract and over Flack's objections, commissioned one of her
assistants to repair the face, which he did, but poorly. Despite the face
distortion, Friends gave final approval to proceed with the casting.
Flacks sued Friends and Tallix to stop the casting. US District
Judge Sidney Stein has just issued his decision allowing several of
Flacks claims to go to trial. Flack claimed that allowing an unsupervised
novice, without training in conservation or monumental sculpture was
gross negligence, which violated her right to the integrity of her work
under the federal Visual Artists Rights Act. Judge Stein agreed that she
should be able to have her day in court to demonstrate just that.
Meg sounds off:
Misplaced political correctness quashes intriguing monument
Flack's model for Queen Catherine's statute is grand, fanciful,
dramatic, and noble. It is really quite a shame that the project has
foundered--the result of misplaced political correctness and serious
wounds to the integrity of an artist. Until the rancor of the litigation is
over, no resurrection of the project will be had.
The public criticism of the Queen Catherine project were
amorphous, and all seem misplaced in time. Catherine's role in horrors of
the world's history of slavery was nothing. Catherine's husband had
business interests in the slave trade--not recently, not within the last
century, but over 300 years ago. So when did we come to think that it
was right or fair to blame someone for the sins of her spouse? Some
reports suggested that the statue looked like a 17th century Barbie doll. I
suspect that is a reference to the statue's elaborate coiffure and plentiful
skirts and ruffles. So what if her style doesn't comport with current
notions of power dressing? Finally, although it is certainly accepted lore
that the borough was named for Catherine, apparently some historians
have suggested that Queens may not have been named for her after all.
Oh well. Perhaps we just shouldn't say it's a statue of Catherine, maybe
it's just a statue of an intriguing, proud woman.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Article 78 -
This site provides a useful primer for lawyers and nonlawyers who seek to
challenge a City or State action claiming it was irrational, arbitrary or illegal. The site explains
how an Article 78 action can be started, though it provides little help with what standards the
courts apply to overturn an agency decision. Sponsored by a private law firm, the site has
some promotional material, but its primer is "promotion free."