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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, 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 [email protected].

by Margaret Reuter, Center for New York City Law at New York Law School

In the News: Giuliani lets feisty AIDS group get under his skin

(jan '00) Housing Works is an AIDS advocacy and support organization. They criticize City policies, hold traditional rallies, and stage creative protests (such as chaining themselves to the desk of Human Resources Administrator Jason Turner).

They also run a fairly large operation of providing housing and social services for people with AIDS and HIV, as well as for other at-risk folks. A major part of the funding for these services is the government--federal, state and city. Over the last few years, the City has actively obstructed Housing Works from participating in and receiving funding from three significant programs--the City's own contract to provide rent subsidies for people with AIDS; a welfare-to-work contract funded by the State Departments of Labor and Health, and third, a HUD-funded program to provide supportive housing for chemically-dependent and mentally-ill individuals.

In 1997 a City audit and investigation revealed that Housing Works had deficient accounting practices and money mismanagement, including an unjustified $500,000 expenditure of HRA funds. These financial irregularities are serious. For a run-of-the-mill contractor that would have been enough to disqualify the contractor, without fuss or muss. But Housing Works is aggressively critical of the Giuliani Administration and these financial mismanagement findings coincided with the Administration political response to a political adversary.

Housing Works challenged the City's actions in court. The state court reviewed the conflict as a straight contracting question. It ruled in favor of the City, deeming the fiscal problems sufficiently serious to justify disqualification. Housing Works also sued in federal court. That court examined the broader array of City actions and found that the City's insistence on Housing Works' money mismanagement was a pretext for withholding funding. The court concluded that the Administration was pitted in a political battle against the group and used every tool at its disposal to discredit them. The court ruled that disqualifying Housing Works as a contractor for its advocacy violates its free speech rights, and ordered the City to restore Housing Works to the list of approved providers for the HUD housing program.

Meg Sounds Off: Giuliani Administration suffers backlash, risks federalization of City programs

To administer a city with a $34 billion dollar municipal government, an executive needs to be strong and sometimes adamant. The Giuliani Administrative has acted so brashly, however, that the federal government is getting involved, and not in a good way.

For instance, the Administration refused to approve a federally-funded contract with Housing Works, a social service provider, which also happens to be one of the Mayor's harshest critics. Not only did a federal court rule that the Administration's actions violated the group's free speech rights, but then US HUD announced that it would no longer allow the City to administer this federal housing program.

A similar story unfolded in Queens. HHC wanted to close down a nursing home, Neponsit Health Care Center. They announced the facility was in such disrepair that the patients had to be evacuated on an emergency basis. The federal Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees federally-funded health programs, however, reviewed the circumstances, concluded that there was no evidence that conditions at Neponsit presented a "sudden, urgent, unforeseen occurrence necessitating a precipitous evacuation," reported Newsday. HCFA fined the City $440,000 for the unjustified evacuation.

Local control and active participation in federal and state programs is important and should not be squandered. The Administration has acted so brashly, so unilaterally, that it risked and provoked serious backlash -- not just from the City's body politic, but from the federal government. This turn of events has far more serious and lasting impact than any political jostling in a Senate race. It's time the Mayor considered these consequences of his actions and policies.

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.
  • 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" 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: an examination of City and State budgets.
  • 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."

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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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