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NYC asks court to vacate order curbing stop-and-frisk by police

People attend a news conference against the Stop-and-Frisk program, outside the Federal Court in New York November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew K
People attend a news conference against the Stop-and-Frisk program, outside the Federal Court in New York November 1, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew K

By Chris Francescani

NEW YORK (Reuters) - City attorneys have asked a U.S. appeals court to vacate a federal judge's decision ordering the New York Police Department to curtail its stop-and-frisk tactics, after the same court removed the judge from the case but left her ruling intact.

The "public perception of the NYPD has been clouded" by U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin's August ruling against the department, city attorneys wrote in the motion filed late Saturday.

Scheindlin's order "lends credence to the notion that the NYPD unfairly targets minorities for stops and frisks, undermining its ability to carry out its mission effectively," New York City Corporation Counsel Michael Cardoza wrote.

Scheindlin ruled in August that the NYPD's practice of stopping individuals on the street and frisking them if they arouse "reasonable suspicion" had led to "indirect racial profiling" of young minorities. She ordered the practice scaled back, named a dozen law professors to a panel that would help implement reforms by the department and appointed a federal monitor to oversee the process.

But in a stunning decision last month, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Scheindlin off the case, saying she violated the judicial conduct code by giving media interviews on the matter and by encouraging plaintiffs in the case to file the lawsuit.

The three-judge panel ruled that Scheindlin's actions undermined the appearance of impartiality but did not address the merits of her opinion. The panel instead suspended her ruling and scheduled arguments in the case for next spring.

City attorneys on Saturday asked the court to speed up the appeals process so it can be completed by January 1, when Bill de Blasio, elected mayor last week, takes office.

De Blasio campaigned on reforming the NYPD's use of stop-and-frisk, calling it a form of racial profiling. He has said that once he is sworn in, he will drop the city's appeal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, have called stop-and-frisk a key part of the city's anti-crime strategy and a factor in an historic drop in violent crime.

Attorneys for Scheindlin asked the appeals court panel to lift its stay of her orders and delay a legal debate about her removal from the case until next year.

Scheindlin attorney Burt Neuborne said in a letter to the court filed on Friday and released on Sunday that the "unseemly dispute" over her ouster was "distracting attention from the underlying merits" of the court case.

Christopher Dunn, assistant legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, a plaintiff in a stop-and-frisk case, called the city's latest motion a "last-minute gambit to erase ... Scheindlin's findings of discriminatory and unlawful stops before the incoming de Blasio administration can withdraw the pending appeal."

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Steve Gorman and Mohammad Zargham)

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