Ready to 'Do Justice,' Carter Assumes Helm at Law Department

, New York Law Journal


Zachary Carter speaking alongside Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio
Zachary Carter, left, speaking at a press conference alongside Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, who chose Carter as Corporation Counsel on Sunday.

"Philosophically, I do think that lawyers who represent the government have a unique responsibility because we represent the city's interests, particularly in litigation against the city, where we are defending the interests of not just the city but all its citizens, and also in affirmative litigation that we bring on behalf of the city and its citizens," he said.

"At the same time, people who are on the opposing side are often citizens or city businesses, so there is a special responsibility, in my view, that any time you are trying to protect the city's interests, you are mindful of an obligation to try and obtain a fair and just outcome," he said.

During the six years he held the post of U.S. Attorney, Carter oversaw high-profile prosecutions, including those of the police officers convicted of abusing Abner Louima in 1997. Carter was also involved in the prosecutions of former Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante and those responsible for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum during the 1991 Crown Heights riots.

In addition to a change in approach to the stop-and-frisk litigation and the Central Park case, there are other potential policy changes on the way, as Carter may also preside over a shift in the city's position on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's taxi reforms, some of which have been criticized by de Blasio.

In other areas, such the restrictions on the sale of large, sugary drinks and the construction of a waste transfer station on the East River at 91st Street, the position of the Law Department is not expected to change. A de Blasio spokesperson has said that the new mayor will evaluate all outstanding lawsuits on a case-by-case basis.

Carter said he looks forward to managing an office with 730 attorneys and 604 support staff. "The Law Department has many veteran lawyers who have carried on a long tradition of professionalism through many mayors, performing widely disparate functions and representing every single agency in New York City while providing the legal architecture to support the mayor's policy initiatives," he said.

Peter Zimroth of Arnold & Porter served as corporation counsel under Mayor Edward Koch. Zimroth was appointed by Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin as monitor of the New York City Police Department to oversee the reforms of stop-and-frisk policies, a position that was put on hold by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Zimroth taught Carter at New York University School of Law. "He was a fabulous law student. He exhibited exactly the qualities that he exhibited throughout his whole career," Zimroth said. "First of all, he's very smart and he's an extremely able lawyer, but my impression at the time, which has been confirmed throughout his whole career, is he has a passionate commitment to do justice."

Zimroth called corporation counsel "one of the great legal jobs in America," and a tough one, because the Law Department, with 730 attorneys and 602 staff, is "a very big, sprawling, complex entity." He said Carter is "absolutely correct" that the job requires "a commitment to justice and to the City of New York."

"The first thing you have to do is love being a lawyer—everyone of his predecessors has gone into the job really loving the idea of being a lawyer for the City of New York," he said. "There are really such wonderful people in that office who spent very large parts of their careers in service to the city. You have around you people who are not only expert in what they do but also share that commitment to the city. One of the important attributes that Zach has is the ability to listen to people, and there are a lot of good people to listen to."

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