I was happy with Mayor Bill de Blasio for a while. He brought a youthful, refreshing blast of liberal-themed common sense into the Mayor's office, and was so forthright that he hurt himself politically. I'm referring to his acknowledgment that he had given his teenage son, Dante, “the talk,” warning him about the extra cautions that must be taken when the police approach you, if you appear to be a black young man, like Dante.
But today's Wall Street Journal presents a different picture. In this article , which concerns the City's annual budget, much of which focuses on law enforcement, we learn that the Mayor has set aside $3.2 million dollars for fighting “frivolous lawsuits against police officers.”
That's an interesting statement, because law enforcement in NYC generally can certainly use help. We heard that from police officers turned off by Pat Lynch's demand that the Mayor apologize to the police in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter protests. Many said, in essence, “Forget an apology–we need new protective vests, radio cars, and increased man power.” Also, and unfortunately, NYC remains extraordinarily attractive to terrorists. And of course, New Yorkers have this thing about gathering in large numbers for demonstrations. So, yes, it is hard to deny that money should be budgeted for law enforcement here in New York.
But one thing that is not a significant problem, if it exists at all here, is “frivolous” lawsuits against police officers. Whether you want to call lawyers who bring such cases, as my firm does, greedy or sensible, the reality is that no local lawyer is going to take a meritless case against the NYPD, hoping that he will succeed in: (a) fooling the generally very competent Corporation Counsel lawyers who represent the City; (b) the streetwise jurors judging the evidence in the case; and (c) the generally experienced judge overseeing the litigation. Why not? Because we need to make a living, too. And we are not going to invest our money, which we will never see again if we lose, in a case that is not strong enough to make it through the gauntlet of scrutiny it will receive. All of which means that, while some incompetent jerk of a lawyer may decide to go ahead and waste his time and money on a suit he knows is garbage, he will not get anywhere with it. So the reality is, no one does it. There is no “jackpot justice” express just waiting for sleazy lawyers and their clients. That's a myth created by the tort reformers–those who do not want to be accountable in a court of law when their actions hurt or kill people. Think of the big auto companies, tobacco companies, Big Pharma–the godfathers of this cynical movement.
So what is a bright guy like Mayor de Blasio doing spouting this anti-consumer claptrap? I'm going to go out on a limb here. I think he knows that “frivolous” lawsuits against the police are not a problem. Instead, that statement is part of his effort to repair his own relations with law enforcement, who may see the Mayor's pledge as evidence that he is doing more to support his NYPD. Perhaps the Mayor sees this PR ploy as a necessity after Pat Lynch's hysterical, shrieked accusations about police blood on Mayor de Blasio's hands. But this empty promise about a non-existent problem is an insult to everyone else, and shows that Bill de Blasio has some unseemly political traits we were hoping he lacked.