2012-01-27 / Top Stories

City To Feds: Get Rid Of Garaufis

By Howard Schwach

City officials, with the full backing of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have blasted the federal judge who ruled that the FDNY intentionally discriminated against minority candidates in its hiring practices, calling him “media-obsessed” and “biased.”

In court papers filed on Tuesday, the city has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to reverse the decision of Judge Nicholas Garaufis and to reassign the case to somebody more neutral.

“Garaufis has lost any semblance of neutrality” and should be removed from the case, the city said in its appeal.

“It is an understatement to say that this judge has expressed firm views on the city’s ostensible intent to discriminate,” city lawyers said of Garaufis. “To any reasonable observer, the vehemence of those beliefs would raise substantial doubt that he could fairly reevaluate the evidence.”

In its appeal of the decision, filed on January 24, the city accused Judge Garaufis of having a “one-sided assessment of the evidence,” adding that “he took on the roles of witness and advocate.”

City lawyers also said that Judge Garaufis was preoccupied with the press coverage of the case, pointing to statements he made in court about comments the mayor and other city officials made to the news media.

“The mayor goes on the radio attacking the court,” Judge Garaufis said, according to the court filing. “And the corporation counsel’s representative attacks the court instead of just saying, ‘We simply disagree.’ ”

The court filing was remarkable for its language, which was more strident and accusatory than normally filed with the review court.

In October, after a bench trial, Judge Garaufis issued a lacerating decision that accused Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of willfully ignoring the racial imbalance in the Fire Department and ordered a court-appointed monitor. Judge Garaufis’ ruling called the department “a stubborn bastion of white male privilege.”

That ruling followed four years of litigation in which the city and the Fire Department were accused by the Justice Department and, later, the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters, of allowing the department to remain almost 97 percent white for decades, despite the fact that the city’s population is about 25 percent black.

Garaufis is also under attack for his decision calling for the large adult homes to be broken up and their mentally challenged residents be moved into assisted living apartments scattered throughout the community.

In that case, opponents of the plan want Garaufis to recuse himself because his wife runs an agency that deals with the adult home population.

Merit Matters, a firefighter advocacy group, has joined the city’s lawsuit as a friend of the court.

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