"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
Metro Card Con
(April '01) Ever wonder whether anyone tries to use his or her Unlimited Ride
Metro Cards in an "entrepreneurial" kind of way? Of course. The Transit
Authority anticipated the urge of an Unlimited Ride cardholder generously to
swipe through a dozen friends all heading up to Yankee Stadium together. The
card is programmed only to be swiped every 18 minutes at maximum.
Apparently William James thought he had a way around this restriction. He
was arrested twice last autumn, once in September, once in October. Transit
police saw James taking money from folks and allowing them access through the
subway turnstile after he swiped his $17 Unlimited Ride Metro Card through
the turnstile for them. In each instance, James did not enter the turnstile
to ride the subway himself. It turned he actually had multiple Unlimited
Ride cards with him, that he used in rotation for his "customers." Each time
he was charged with an offense called "unauthorized sale of fare media,"
which is punishable by a fine of $25 and up to 10 days in jail.
James did not pay the fine. He went to court to argue that the statute had
to be unconstitutional. What about the subway rider who sold a token to a
friend? That is also an "unauthorized" sale under the statute, and James
argued that such an act could not be deemed illegal. Criminal Court Judge
Sarah L. Krauss was unimpressed and declared that the Unlimited Ride card was
not intended as a money-making device for the cardholder. Judge Krauss gave
William James a lesson in subway fare economics, which James most likely
already knew. She noted that a seven-day Unlimited Ride card costs $17. An
industrious 24/7 cardholder could swipe someone through the turnstile every
18 minutes, 24 hours a day, for seven consecutive days, collecting $1.50 fare
each time, which would gross $840 for the cardholder, not the Transit
Authority. A generous return on a mere $17. I checked her math; she is
right. Judge Krauss refused to dismiss the charges against James. So much
for that "free lunch."
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."