New York State Supreme Court Justice Emily Jane Goodman is used to raising hackles. In her long and distinguished career on the bench she’s ruled in favor of homeless people with AIDS, rent-stabilized tenants, protestors at the 2004 Republican national convention and many other ordinary people in a city where the rich and powerful seem to grow richer and more powerful with every passing day. (I should mention before going on that Goodman is a friend.) The latest attacks, though, aren’t limited to Daily News editorialists or the famously irate Andrea Peyser of the New York Post. They’re also coming from city officials and Mayor Bloomberg himself. And that makes all the difference.
It started last month, when Judge Goodman issued a temporary restraining order preventing the city from laying off or demoting a dozen deputy sheriffs. The Mayor swung into action, inveighing against Goodman in his regular slot on the John Gambling radio show, where he called upon Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge, to “make these judges follow the law, not get involved where they have no legal standing and if they do have legal standing, do what the law says." Goodman’s ruling, he claimed, would cost the city “a million dollars a year just because this judge decides to step in and say ‘Oh, I feel sorry for these people.’” City officials made absurd accusations to force her off the case – among them that she exchanged pleasantries with the plaintiff’s attorney, that her daughter has been laid off from her job (presumably making the judge too sympathetic toward the plaintiffs) and that an article she wrote for the Gotham Gazette about parking tickets presented a conflict of interest because the sheriff’s deputies’ job involves parking violations. Corporation counsel Michael Cardozo even bashed her because on one occasion no one answered her phone in chambers.
Fortunately, the mayor seems to have outraged the legal profession. "It is one thing for an elected official to disagree with a court ruling, but it is unworthy of the Mayor to demean an individual judge with a personal attack, and equally unworthy of him to mischaracterize what happened in court," said James B. Kobak Jr., president of the prestigious New York county lawyers association. The NYCLA has issued a strongly worded statement critiquing the mayor, as has the president of the New York State Bar Association.
“It’s gratifying that two major legal organizations have spoken out,” Goodman told me, “but all lawyers, judges and the public must be concerned about interference with judicial independence. History has shown us the dangers of governmental intrusions into the judicial process. This isn’t just about me.”
Meanwhile, the appellate division has upheld Judge Goodman’s ruling.