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.

The city's attorneys cited examples of how law enforcement had been overwhelmed in other contexts by mass civil disobedience and protests, including the 1999 "Battle for Seattle" that shut down a World Trade Organization conference, and noted the number of terror attacks aimed at New York City, including a plot to bomb the subway in Herald Square uncovered just a month before the convention.

But plaintiffs lawyers said the police were being alarmist and blamed the city for belatedly revealing in 2006 that police had based their preparations on information collected from a "previously unknown" surveillance operation.

That revelation set off a long discovery battle as plaintiffs lawyers sought documents and other evidence about police surveillance.

The Law Department aggressively defended the concept of "mass probable cause" to clear the streets and the actions of police throughout the convention, which was held one year after mass demonstrations in New York City protesting the Iraq war and President Bush, putting police on high alert heading into the event.

Before and during the convention, police made a series of mass arrests for violations such as disorderly conduct and parading without a permit—violations that would normally earn only a summons. But the police had adopted a no-summons policy for the convention and elected to fingerprint those charged with violations.

Many of the arrestees were taken to makeshift holding facility at a former bus terminal on Pier 57 on the Hudson River and held for hours, or days in some cases.

After the convention, a class action and more than 500 individual lawsuits were filed challenging the arrests, the fingerprinting policy, the no-summons policy and the detentions on Pier 57 where people were held 24 to 48 hours without processing in allegedly terrible conditions.

The next 10 years were spent in depositions, fights over documents, challenges to NYPD surveillance policies, and an appeal to the Second Circuit.

The stage was finally set for settlement with a series of rulings Sullivan made on summary judgment motions in 2012.

During oral arguments, Dunn, Jonathan Moore of Beldock Levine & Hoffman and Michael Spiegel, three of the 15 plaintiffs lawyers who signed off on Wednesday's settlement asked Sullivan to hold police accountable for unconstitutional mass arrests and detention.

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