Zachary Carter, a former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, will become New York City’s corporation counsel on Jan. 1.
Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio announced Carter’s appointment as the city’s chief legal officer on Sunday and pledged a clean break from some of the legal approaches of his predecessor’s administration.
“There will not be a piece of legislation or executive order or any major action that we take as a city government over the next four years that does not have the approval and support of the city’s top attorney” de Blasio said at a Manhattan news conference. “It’s one of the roles that touches literally every part of government and therefore the lives of every New Yorker.”
The Law Department, with 730 attorneys and 604 support staff, is one of the busiest in city government. Among its functions is the defense of the city against damage claims—18,000 pending currently.
De Blasio signaled that Carter would immediately change direction from some of the positions held by the Law Department under outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The city will abandon its appeal of Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin’s decision that the NYPD sometimes used its stop-and-frisk tactics unconstitutionally by unfairly targeting minorities. The ruling to install a federal monitor to oversee the NYPD has been on hold pending that appeal.
Additionally, de Blasio said he would follow through on a campaign promise to settle a lawsuit brought by five black and Hispanic teens convicted in the 1990 rape and grisly beating of a white woman jogging in Central Park. They served six to 13 years in prison before their convictions were thrown out in 2002 because of evidence linking someone else to the crime.
They sued police and prosecutors for $250 million but the lawsuit has languished for a decade.
Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo has vigously defended the Bloomberg administration’s position in both cases.
Cardozo predicted in a message to Law Department staff Sunday night that Carter would serve with “great distinction” as corporation counsel.
“I have known Zach for a very long time and consider him a good friend…Zach is a wonderful person and an excellent lawyer,” Cardozo said.
Cardozo, a corporate litigator who will return to Proskauer Rose when he leaves office, held the corporation counsel’s job for 12 years, longer than any other before him. Before the announcement of Carter’s appointment, he had said it was time for a woman to hold the job.
Carter was the first black to be named U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District when he was tapped for that post by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.
“Throughout my career I tried to use the law to level the playing field for those seeking access and equal opportunity,” said Carter, who echoed many of de Blasio’s progressive campaign themes. “We have failed as a society when we don’t meet the needs of the least advantaged among us.”
During the six years he held the post of U.S. Attorney, Carter oversaw high-profile prosecutions, including those of the police officers convicted of abusing Abner Louima in 1997. Carter was also involved in the prosecutions of former Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante and those responsible for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum during the 1991 Crown Heights riots. He has spent recent years in private practice at Dorsey & Whitney.
His appointment was widely praised, drawing high marks from the likes of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and civil rights leader the Reverand Al Sharpton.