Law
Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Law
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

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 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 mreuter@nyls.edu.

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 Michels.
  • 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.


Other Recommendations:

  • 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 Debates.
  • NYC 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."

Visit the Topic Archives!