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A Queens judge has refused to grant New York City’s request for what he called “civil banishment” of certain alleged members of the “Bloods” street gang from the foot of the Queensboro Bridge where they allegedly control a prostitution business that has overtaken the neighborhood. Justice Arthur W. Lonschein in City of New York v. Lenny Andrews, 02683/2000, filed Friday in Supreme Court, Queens County, IA Part 9, rejected the City’s request for a preliminary injunction against 21 individuals, barring them from “appearing anywhere in public view” in a designated area of Queens Plaza between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. Although he agreed that the City had demonstrated at a hearing in February that the Queens neighborhood had been overrun with prostitution activity during the late night hours, the judge said the City had failed to prove that any of the defendants, “individually or as a group, are responsible for the prostitution activity, or that their civil banishment would bring it under control.” In strong language the judge made clear his disapproval of the City’s attempt to use a civil enforcement technique to solve a criminal problem. “I believe that the City’s conception of the law is fundamentally unsound, and that the present state of the law in this State will not allow the relief of civil banishment under any of the circumstances alleged here. Even if the City had obtained jurisdiction over the defendants, and even if it had proven its factual claims, as a legal matter the City has failed to demonstrate that the proposed injunction is a constitutionally permissible response to those claims, and I conclude that it is not constitutionally permissible,” the judge wrote. The City cited a ruling by California’s Supreme Court, People ex rel. Gallo v. Acuna, 14 Cal4th 1090, as the inspiration for their proposed injunction, but Justice Lonschein distinguished that case from the Queens situation. A California court issued an injunction which enjoined defendant gang members from “appearing anywhere in public view with any other defendant herein or with any other known [gang] member.” “[T]he defendants were not forbidden from entering the Rocksprings neighborhood. They were forbidden from associating with each other within its borders, which is a different thing,” the Queens judge said. “The California Supreme Court upheld this provision … and concluded that it … burdened the defendants’ free speech and associational rights no more than was necessary to meet the legitimate governmental interests involved.” Noting that the prostitution situation in Queens was not as bad as the drug activity cited in California, Justice Lonschein concluded that the injunction sought by New York City’s officials would infringe upon the “defendants’ constitutional freedoms to travel and remain in the Queens Plaza area, far more than is necessary to serve the legitimate governmental interest in suppressing the prostitution trade there.” The judge also took a skeptical view of the City’s attempt to use the court’s civil equity powers to enforce the criminal law. “The City has made it quite plain that it intends to use this injunction to bypass the Criminal Court, which it sees as providing inadequate relief,” he said. The City’s argument is basically that “they know who the bad guys are, but they don’t have enough evidence to prove it in Criminal Court, and so they want to use the lesser civil standard of proof to get relief here,” the judge added. “I emphatically reject the notion that this court may serve as an ad hoc alternative to the Criminal Court,” Justice Lonschein concluded in dismissing the City’s action. “If the City finds itself aggrieved by a perceived leniency in [the Criminal Court's] sentencing decisions, it can attempt to persuade the judges to be more stringent. If the judges cannot be so persuaded, recourse can be had to the Legislature, in an attempt to mandate stricter sentences.” George A. Grasso, the Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs for the Police Department, and Assistant Corporation Counsels Meredith A. Feinman, Norman Siegel, Alexandra Diamond, John Curry and David Duhan represented the City. Christopher Dunn and Arthur Eisenberg of the New York Civil Liberties Union Federation, and Queens Assistant District Attorneys Gary Fidel and Nicole Beder appeared as amicus curiae.

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