NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York's police unions cannot challenge a sweeping settlement over the city's controversial stop-and-frisk police tactic, a U.S. judge ruled on Wednesday, clearing the way for reforms to take effect.
U.S. District Judge Analisa Torres in New York denied the unions' request to intervene in two stop-and-frisk class action lawsuits, saying they lacked standing to pursue an appeal that Mayor Bill de Blasio has already decided to abandon.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that the hundreds of thousands of stop-and-frisk encounters each year largely affect minorities and amounted to a form of illegal racial profiling. Scheindlin ordered various reforms, including a federal monitor to oversee departmental changes.
Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who left office at the end of 2013, had appealed the ruling and defended the practice as essential to public safety. But de Blasio, who campaigned on putting an end to stop-and-frisk, said in January he would drop the appeal and agree to Scheindlin's reforms.
The unions sought to continue the appeal on behalf of their members, arguing that the ruling had hurt police officers' reputations and that the proposed reforms could impede their ability to do their jobs.
Torres, however, said only the city had the authority to litigate claims involving the police department's policies.
"The unions seek an appeal the city no longer wants to pursue in order to vindicate a policy the city no longer wants to implement," Torres wrote in a 108-page opinion.
Patrick Lynch, president of the city Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, one of five unions that sought to intervene, said it would ask the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Torres' ruling.
"It is unfair and inconceivable that employees would not be allowed in this process," he said in a statement.
Peter Zimroth, who served as the city's chief lawyer from 1987 to 1989, was appointed as monitor in August. In a separate order issued on Wednesday, Torres set his tenure at three years, part of the agreement between the city and the plaintiffs.
In a statement, de Blasio called the ruling a "major step in our efforts to repair police-community relations."
The Center for Constitutional Rights brought the initial lawsuit in 2008. A second, smaller case brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union is also part of the settlement.
Scheindlin herself became a source of controversy, when in October the 2nd Circuit found she had compromised her appearance of impartiality by steering the case to her docket and granting media interviews.
In a highly unusual move, the appeals court removed her from the case, though it later issued a ruling clarifying that it did not find Scheindlin had committed any actual misconduct.
The case was assigned to Torres soon after.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Edith Honan and Richard Chang