City Settles Lawsuits in RNC Arrests for $18 Million

, New York Law Journal

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Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, speaks at a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to announce a settlement with New York City for the arrests that occurred at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Behind him are Jonathan Moore and Rose Weber, two of the other principal plaintiffs lawyers in the case.
Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, speaks at a press conference Wednesday on the steps of City Hall to announce a settlement with New York City for the arrests that occurred at the Republican National Convention in 2004. Behind him are Jonathan Moore and Rose Weber, two of the other principal plaintiffs lawyers in the case.

Editors' Note: This article has been updated to reflect a Correction.

New York City has agreed to pay $18 million to settle claims from mass arrests during the 2004 Republican National Convention, a move that activists and civil rights attorneys hailed Wednesday as a victory for constitutional rights.

At a combined press conference and rally on the steps of City Hall, speakers said the settlement was a vindication of their claim that police had no right to arrest people without individualized probable cause.

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the arrest of some 1,800 protestors, bystanders, legal observers and journalists was "one of the darkest moments in New York City protest history," but plaintiffs in the nearly 10-year-old litigation showed that the police should not be allowed to "trample on the First Amendment rights of protestors."

Celeste Koeleveld, executive assistant corporation counsel for public safety, said the courts turned back an attempt to restrict policies and practices the city uses to police mass events.

"It was vitally important to defend the city in this litigation, and we are proud of the major victories we achieved," she said in a statement.

Under the $18 million settlement, which is pending approval by Southern District Judge Richard Sullivan (See Profile), each plaintiff will receive about $6,400, according to the city law department. Plaintiffs lawyers' fees will comprise $7.6 million of the total settlement.

According to the Law Department's calculations, it spent an estimated $16 milion internally to vigorously defend the 430 cases in addition to the settlement—roughly $7 millon for court cases and the remainder reflecting the salaries and hours of its own attorneys. 

The city also turned to private law firms that provided their services pro bono: Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, Proskauer Rose, Fulbright & Jaworski and Linklaters. 

Throughout the litigation, Law Department attorneys defended the police department's prerogative to minimize disruption as much as possible during the convention and head off what Koeleveld once described as the "tripartite threat" of "domestic and international terrorism, anarchistic violence and unlawful civil disobedience."

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