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ALBANY � In a case of vital concern to New York City and municipalities statewide, the Court of Appeals tomorrow will consider whether the city is liable for punitive damages in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Krohn v. New York City Police Department, 22, has immediate million-dollar implications for New York, and potentially far greater implications for the city and other municipalities in the future. It arises at a time when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s administration and municipal authorities across the state are lobbying for legislation that would ease their actual and potential liability, primarily in torts. The case comes to Albany via the federal courts, where a civilian employee of the New York City Police Department won a $1 million punitive damage award against the city under the Human Rights Law. After the trial judge set aside the punitive damage award, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit asked the state’s highest court to advise on whether such damages are available. The statute may imply the availability of such a remedy, but it does not explicitly permit punitives against the city, according to the briefs. At issue before the Court of Appeals is whether the city implicitly waived its immunity to punitive damages. Local government lobbying groups, in support of the city, are urging the Court to stand by the time-honored principle that the imposition of punitive damages against a municipality is contrary to public policy in that it punishes taxpayers while yielding little if any deterrent force. On the other hand, amici for the plaintiff contend that the statute clearly contemplates punitive damages against the city � even if it is not spelled out in chapter and verse � – and that the threat of such awards is necessary to deter sexual harassment in the government workplace. Other issues set for argument before the Court this month include: � City liability for the wrongful deaths of police officers killed in the line of duty after, it is alleged, the city negligently violated some rule, requirement, statute or order. McCormick v. City, 56, and Williams v. City, 13, could re-expose the city to huge awards. � The coercive effect of a Manhattan judge telling a deadlocked jury that its job was to “get a result.” Five minutes after admonishing the jury in People v. Ramon Aponte, 55, the defendant was convicted of drug charges. � Whether a welfare recipient may withhold rent because of hazard code violations if the welfare board has not withheld its share of the rent. Matter of Notre Dame Leasing LLC v. Rosario, 48, centers on the so-called “Spiegel Law Defense” to a nonpayment action commenced against a tenant. Punitive Damages Krohn, titled after a bankruptcy trustee, involves a woman named Alli Katt who worked for the New York Police Department in the early 1990s. Ms. Katt brought a human rights suit against her former supervisor, Lieutenant Anthony DiPalma, and the city, alleging sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work place. A Southern District jury awarded Ms. Katt $400,000 in compensatory damages against Lieutenant DiPalma and the city. It tacked on a $1 million punitive award against the city. Southern District Judge Gerard E. Lynch set aside the punitive damage award on the grounds that such damages are not expressly authorized under the Human Rights Law. The Second Circuit noted that the statute does indeed include punitive damages, but it does not evince “an overt intent to subject municipalities to” such awards. On appeal, the city’s attorney, Assistant Corporation Counsel Scott Shorr, relies primarily on the argument that the statute, while clearly creating a private cause of action and clearly permitting punitive damages, does not specifically authorize punitives against the city. Absent clear, expressed, unequivocal language, Mr. Shorr maintains, the Court should not conclude that the city intended to divest itself of common-law sovereignty. He is joined by the New York State Conference of Mayors and the County Attorneys Association of the State of New York. David A. Kotler, a Princeton, N.J., attorney representing the appellant, counters that a fair reading of the statute and its history suggests the provision for punitive damages was meant to include any defendant, including the City of New York. Line-of-Duty Injury The police death cases, McCormick and Williams, will be argued on March 30. One of the matters involves Sergeant John F. McCormick, who was fatally shot by another narcotics officer on April 27, 1988. Sergeant McCormick was killed when a bullet fired by one of his colleagues passed through a door. His wife brought a claim under �205(e) of the General Municipal Law, which allows law enforcement officers and their survivors to recover for a line-of-duty injury resulting from the defendant’s failure to abide by “the requirements of any of the statutes, ordinances, rules, orders and requirements of a federal, state, county, village, town or city government.” The wife’s claim was predicated on the theory that Sergeant McCormick’s partners had violated the Penal Law in their use of physical force. Supreme Court dismissed the action, and the Appellate Division, First Department, affirmed. The First Department panel said that the mere allegation of unlawful activity � the other officers were never charged with any crime � cannot sustain a �205(e) claim. On appeal, the plaintiff contends the ruling is contrary to the intent of the statute and inconsistent with rulings from the Second and Fourth departments. Susan J. Levy of Levy and Levy in Manhattan will appear for the plaintiff while Assistant Corporation Counsel Julie Steiner defends the city. Recognizable Hazards The other police case stems from jury verdicts that awarded $5.6 million and $8.9 million respectively to the families of two detectives who were killed by a homicide defendant. The defendant had been chained in a locker room in the Queens District Attorney’s Office where, while unguarded, he stole a revolver from a detective’s locker. Detectives Keith Williams and Richard Guerzon were murdered on the Grand Central Parkway as they were transporting the defendant back to Rikers Island. A lawsuit by the surviving families was based on a Labor Law provision that requires employers to provide a safe place to work and one that is free of recognized hazards. In a 3-2 decision, the Second Department reversed a verdict awarding $5.6 million to the Williams family and $8.9 million to the Guerzon family. The panel said the suit must be dismissed because the alleged hazard had nothing to do with the physical condition of the locker room. Two dissenting judges maintained that the routine practice of holding prisoners in a room containing firearms constituted a “recognized” hazard within the framework of Labor Law �27-a. That appeal will be argued by Richard A. Dienst of Manhattan for the officers’ families and Assistant Corporation Counsel Barry P. Schwartz for the city. Deadlocked Jury Ramon Aponte’s appeal stems from his conviction for selling crack cocaine in Harlem. Five hours into deliberations, the jury reported to acting Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McLaughlin that it was deadlocked. Justice McLaughlin delivered a supplementary charge in which he told the panel “the point of the process is to get a result.” Mr. Aponte was promptly convicted. The conviction was overturned in a 3-2 opinion by the Appellate Division, First Department. The majority found the charge coercive. Two dissenting judges said Justice McLaughlin’s remarks, taken in context with his initial charge and the entire supplemental charge, did not exert improper pressure on the jury. The appeal will be argued Thursday by Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Frank Glaser for the prosecution and James M. Hosking of Clifford Chance in Manhattan for the defense. Tenant Rights In Matter of Notre Dame, the Appellate Division, Second Department, wrestled with an issue of tenant rights for a year before issuing a 3-2 opinion. The matter is rooted in a section of Social Services Law that allows public welfare authorities to withhold rent on behalf of welfare recipients when the dwelling is dangerous or hazardous. The Spiegel Law, named after former Manhattan Surrogate and Assemblyman Samuel A. Spiegel, permits social services officials to withhold rent payments it would ordinarily make on behalf of welfare recipients if the building where the recipient resides has dangerous or hazardous code violations. Here, the question is whether the recipients could invoke the Spiegel Law on their own. The Second Department agreed with the Appellate Term of the 2nd and 11th Judicial Districts, saying the option of withholding rents for code violations is limited under Social Services Law Section 143-b to “public welfare officials.” In this appeal, the plaintiffs are attempting to establish a right of welfare recipients to withhold rent if landlords neglect to remedy hazardous or dangerous conditions. It will be argued tomorrow by Carl O. Callender of Queens Legal Services for the tenant and Denise M. May of Pennisi, Daniels & Norelli in Rego Park for Notre Dame leasing.

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