NEW YORK — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg should be fined $100 million of his own money over his unpopular education chief’s short and controversial tenure, a group of parents said in legal papers on Wednesday.
They say Bloomberg chose to burnish his three-term mayor legacy over improving education when he nominated his friend and former Hearst Magazines chairman Cathie Black as schools chancellor, despite her lack of credentials and experience.
Black quit the post this month after just 95 days in office and was replaced by her deputy.
The papers by Advocates for Justice, a law-firm and advocacy group representing the 14 parents, are a preliminary notice of a lawsuit handed to the City’s Comptroller’s office. The group has yet to file a formal legal complaint in a New York court.
“The mayor’s ego, and his insistence on ‘selling’ the school system rather than building it from the ground up, led to this disaster,” said the group’s attorney Arthur Schwartz in a statement.
“The mayor took a lot from the City’s school children with this error, and he should be required to make repairs — in a sum that he is uniquely qualified to do,” Schwartz said.
The $100 million in damages should be paid personally by the billionaire mayor, the legal papers said, and be pooled in a fund to help train teachers.
“This suit so lacks merit it’s not even worth me commenting,” said Kate O’Brien-Ahlers, a spokeswoman for the City’s Law Department. A representative from the mayor’s office was not immediately available to comment.
The parents, who are seeking class-action status to represent all New York City public school parents, said Bloomberg had committed “misfeasance of office” by ramming Black’s appointment through the state bureaucracy.
After being appointed in November, Black clashed repeatedly with teachers and parents who saw her as a friend of Bloomberg with no experience that would suggest she had the credentials to succeed in one the most challenging jobs in U.S. education.
Black never seemed to recover after her comment in January that birth control “would really help us” solve the problem of overcrowded schools drew the ire of many parents of the city’s 1.1 million public school students.
Black’s resignation on April 7 came just days after an NY1-Marist poll found Bloomberg’s approval rating had dropped to 40 percent, with 21 percent saying they believe his performance in office is poor.
Denise Villamia? 51? takes more than 10 medications daily for a range of illnesses she claims to have developed from volunteering at Ground Zero in the weeks following 9/11.
She was forced to quit her job as a public school social worker last October due to debilitating symptoms of gastro-intestinal reflux and sleep apnea. I was lling apart because of everything I had to deal with? she said? showing skin discoloration on her palms? a symptom of her auto-immune disorder.
Having received $25?000 from the first Victim Compensation fund? Villamia is holding out hope that she’ll be eligible for additional payments to lessen the burden of costly medical expenses.
Villamia was one of more than 250 first responders and Downtown residents injured on 9/11 that gathered at Queens College on March 20 to meet attorneys offering to represent them in reimbursement cases.
These men up here in their suits aren’t here to look pretty? they’re here to fight for you? said John Feal? founder and president of the FealGood Foundation? an advocacy group for 9/11 victims and the organizer of the forum.
This is the rest of our lives. This is it? said Feal? addressing an emotionally raw audience. It’s up to everyone here to advocate to keep the V.C.F. up and running.
The fund? valued at $2.8 billion? was re-opened under the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act? which passed Congress last December and was signed by President Obama a few days later. It is meant to remunerate those who have suffered economic losses due to physical injuries incurred on or following 9/11.
Eight attorneys from New York-based law firms introduced themselves and offered advice to those seeking compensation for their respiratory and other illnesses that have pushed many of them into unemployment.
We’re very committed to repaying and honoring the service that you gave us? to our nation? and get every possible condition included in this so we can protect you and your milies? said Jim Lundy? representing Advocates for Justice.
You certainly have a tough decision here in determining who is going to represent you? chimed in Bill Groner? from Worby? Groner? Edelman & Napoli Bern? the firm that represented more than 9?500 first responders in 9/11-related law suits against New York City and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
The lawyers stressed that? in defending the victims? they’ll have to prove the association of their illnesses or wounds with 9/11. Under the V.C.F.? the attorneys are entitled to receive a fee of up to 10 percent if their clients are awarded money.
Just because you have an injury? it doesn’t mean you’re going to get compensation in the V.C.F.? said Napoli. You have to show injury that was related to exposure with Ground Zero.
FealGood Foundation Attorney Sean Riordan noted that it’s still uncertain whether victims such as Villamia who were granted money in the first round of the V.C.F. are eligible for remuneration in the second round.
These and other sulegaladvicebstantive decisions concerning the funds’ implementation? including which illnesses warrant compensation? will be determined by the special master? who Feal said would be selected by May.
That person is the single most important individual in setting policy and guidelines? including issues such as how cancer is treated in terms of the Zadroga legislation? said personal injury lawyer John Dearie.
The special master? Groner chimed in? also has the authority to relax the standard of proof victims are expected to bring to the table. We want him to be as lax as he can be… people who were healthy before are no longer healthy and have to be taken very seriously? said Groner.
Dearie noted that illnesses commonly found within the general population can be difficult to attribute to the events of 9/11. Contrary to the original V.C.F.? which primarily awarded wrongful death cases? this latest round of V.C.F. funding? he said? will presumably cover a larger range of injuries that can be compensated.
Feal said he is determined to get cancers? in particular? added to the list of illnesses. He has attended some 50 funerals in the last few years? noticing that nearly all of the deaths were cancer-related.
[The policymakers] are on notice – mark my words? Feal said vehemently. We got the media? and we can rally in a heartbeat. I’m confident this is a fight we’re going to win.
Another ailment advocates are fighting to be included in the V.C.F. is post-traumatic stress disorder? which is only reimbursable under the current regulations when accompanied by a physical injury.
Attorney Noah Kushlefsky said he would conjure up medical evidence supporting the claim that P.T.S.D. is a type of physical impediment. By using a handful of studies to show physical injuries to the brain? we’ll argue that people are rendered disabled by P.T.S.D. and have a medical injury and are entitled to compensation? he said.
And? while it is not a requirement? the lawyers strongly recommended that claimants become enrolled in one of the World Trade Center Centers of Excellence health clinics? if they have not done so already.
There’s a very good flow of information between the health care side and the victim’s compensation side? said Kushlefsky? since the special master typically consults the clinics for advice and assistance before deciding on a case.
Enrollment in one of the clinics is also strongly advised because the physicians? Lundy and Groner noted? are more prone to identify causal relationships between patients’ illnesses and their exposures from 9/11.
At the Centers of Excellence? that is part of what those physicians are doing – taking a very detailed occupational and exposure history? said Lundy.
The attorneys pointed to the inherent flaw in placing funding and distribution limitations on the money. Only $800 million of the fund? which is now capped at $2.8 billion? will be released to victims in the first five years? and the remaining $2 billion will be released in 2016 (the sixth year). We don’t want the [U.S. Department of Justice] to say we have to preserve funds? said Riordan. We want them to pay you what your claim is worth? regardless of your overall cap.
Kushlefsky said the lawyers would collectively fight for the release of the payments in full in certain circumstances. Some people can’t wait five years? are very sick and need the money now? he said. Our goal is so it’s ir to everyone? and not to look at this as a budget but as initial funding.
The lawyers also vowed they would continue to work with the Department of Justice to expand the total amount allocated to the fund.
City parents claimed a legal victory Friday in their fight to improve Education Council elections.
The New York City Parents Union said their opposition to the current elections process led to the implementation of a new voting period beginning later this month.
“The Department of Education today showed really good faith in redoing these elections, and we are really happy, and we rejoice and we are hopeful that every parent will take advantage of the second opportunity and vote so that their voices are heard in the New York City public school system,” said Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union.
Opponents said the council election process has been riddled with problems, including a shortage of candidates, inaccurate information about candidates, and candidates being ineligible for reelection.
NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott acknowledged the process could have been handled better.
After vocal parent protests about insufficient candidate information, Education Department officials announced Monday they would delay the voting deadline for local school-council elections by a week.
The announcement came just a half an hour before a judge was set to decide whether to issue a temporary restraining order after a group of parents filed a lawsuit aimed at preventing a second round of voting until the problems were fixed.
The two sides will meet Tuesday to see if a compromise can be reached, parent lawyer Arthur Schwartz said.
“After reviewing concerns raised by parents and public officials,” said schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, “I have concluded that the process could and should have been handled better.”
Parents had reported being excluded unfairly from the ballots and complained about difficulties finding out who was running.
The councils replaced the school boards after Mayor Bloomberg took control of the school system.
Parents’ Group Intends To Sue Mayor Over Cathie Black ‘Damage’
by Mary Frost (email@example.com), published online 04-27-2011
City Says Suit Lacks Merit
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
NEW YORK — A group of parents represented by the public interest law firm Advocates for Justice filed a Notice of Claim Wednesday against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The group charges the mayor with committing “misfeasance of office” through the appointment of Cathie Black as schools chancellor, and by so doing “damaging the education of public school children in New York City.”
The Notice of Claim signifies the group’s intent to sue
About a dozen parents along with the newly formed New York City Parents Union are listed as claimants. They are demanding $100 million in compensatory damages from Mayor Bloomberg, “as the individual now held accountable under New York state’s education law for the performance of the public education system,” according to a release from the NYC Parents Union. The group would use the $100 million for teacher training.
The Notice of Claim was filed with the Office of New York City Comptroller John Liu. The claim cited the mayor’s “fiduciary obligation to act with the utmost of prudence and responsibility” in running the city’s school system.
Brooklyn Parent: ‘Children Have Suffered’
Brooklyn parent Mariama Sanoh, a claimant, said in a statement: “When outraged parents stated that Cathie Black was unqualified to be chancellor, Mayor Bloomberg accused us — the real stakeholders in our children’s education — of playing politics. The mayor has committed misfeasance and our children have suffered. There have to be consequences for these bad choices.”
Kate O’Brien Ahlers, a spokesperson for the New York City Law Department, told the Brooklyn Eagle, the group’s claim “so lacks merit that it’s not even worth me commenting.”
In December, an Albany judge ruled that the state did not wrongfully grant Cathleen Black the waiver that allowed her to serve as chancellor, in spite of her lack of qualifications.
Other Brooklyn claimants include Chris Owens, district leader of the 52nd Assembly District and former community school board president; parent Muba Yarofulani, co-president of the Coalition for Public Education (CPE) and president of the District 18 Presidents Council; and Brooklyn teacher Julie Cavanagh.
Arthur Z. Schwartz, the lawyer for the NYC Parents Union, will be arguing another lawsuit in Albany today on behalf of the Deny Waiver Coalition, a parent group with many of the same members as the Parents Union. The suit argues that the minimum education and work qualifications for schools chancellor cannot be ignored in the future. The case will be heard in the Appellate Division, Third Department.
A Fine Fare and a Key Food in Brooklyn are being sued over charges that they violated minimum wage and overtime laws; attorney sees cases as first of many.
By Daniel Massey, Crain’s NY Business.com, March 3, 2011
The suits, filed against a Fine Fare and a Key Food, are part of an ongoing campaign by New York Communities for Change — the successor to Acorn — and United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 338 to improve conditions for low-wage supermarket workers in the city.
Workers at two Brooklyn supermarkets filed class-action lawsuits Thursday, alleging the owners of the shops violated minimum wage and overtime laws.
The suits, filed against a Fine Fare and a Key Food, are part of an ongoing campaign by New York Communities for Change—the successor to Acorn— and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Local 338 to improve conditions for low-wage supermarket workers in the city.
The suit against Fine Fare alleges stock workers earned between $300 and $400 for weeks that ranged from 65 to 78 hours, starting in 2006. It claims they weren’t paid the time and a half required by law for hours in excess of 40, nor were they given bonus pay for days longer than 10 hours. The Key Food complaint makes similar allegations, charging that stock workers earned between $300 and $450 for weeks between 72 and 84 hours, without overtime pay, from 2007 through 2010.
“This is pretty common in a lot of stores in New York City and I see these as the first of many cases we’re going to bring,” said Arthur Schwartz, the workers’ attorney.
Fine Fare owner Mustafa Aba Saab said he has not yet seen the suit. There was no answer at the Key Food store and there was no immediate response to an e-mail sent to Key Food corporate headquarters.
As part of the campaign, Mr. Schwartz sent a letter to the owner of a third shop — Golden Farm in Flatbush — threatening a suit by next week if he did not negotiate over minimum wage and overtime violations against a dozen employees. Workers there are trying to organize a union and Local 338 filed for an election Tuesday.
Sonny Kim, the owner of Golden Farm, said his lawyer has been working for four months to bring the situation to a close, negotiating with the state Department of Labor, which is demanding back wages and penalty payments. “We’re trying to settle,” he said.
Organizers also announced Thursday that a union election would be held Monday at a fourth supermarket — Master Food in Flatbush, where workers say they are fighting for respect on the job.
“I’ve worked there from August 2004 and I have never had a vacation; I’ve gotten sick and had to go to work sick; I’ve worked on holidays and haven’t gotten paid extra; and I never got overtime,” said Jesus Najera, a 31-year-old immigrant from Honduras who plans to vote in favor of the union. “We think that with the union there will be changes for the better at the store.”
Since the campaign launched in December, organizers from Local 338 and New York Communities for Change have met with more than 300 workers. The drive combines the organizing of workers to demand back pay with more traditional efforts seeking union representation. New York Communities for Change has used its roots on the ground in Brooklyn to help activate workers who are often difficult to organize because many are undocumented. Late last year, the group organized a bus caravan that stopped at various supermarkets where workers claimed their rights were being violated.
“By combining the strength of the union and labor laws with a community base, the employer has to realize he can’t just treat these guys poorly or it’s going to blow up in his own backyard,” said Kevin Lynch, director of organizing at Local 338. The community group Make the Road New York employed a similar strategy in a campaign with the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union to organize retail workers on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick in 2005.
The supermarket campaign comes as a new state law pushed by Make the Road is set to go into effect next month, increasing penalties on employers who violate wage and hour laws and don’t properly keep records.
Workers will be able to recoup the money they are owed, plus a 100% penalty. The current law allows for just 25% in damages, meaning even if caught, employers typically end up paying little more than they
stole. The act also beefs up protections for workers who are retaliated against for exerting their rights, and gives the state’s commissioner of labor new powers to collect damages from employers who violate the law.
Wage theft costs more than 317,000 low-wage workers in the city $18.4 million per week, according to a 2010 study by the National Employment Law Project. The workers lose almost 15% of their earnings due to labor violations—$58 each per week, or $3,016 every year, according to the group. Minimum wage violations are particularly prevalent in grocery stores, the study showed.
Crains New York Business
By Albert Amateau
Opponents of the sale of the former St. Vincent’s Hospital property to Rudin Management and North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System are still fighting for a chance to restore a full-service, acute-care hospital in Greenwich Village.
Arthur Schwartz, the principal attorney with the Public interest law firm Advocates for justice, who contested the sale in Bankruptcy Court last week on behalf of the Fulton Houses tenants Association, filed a notice of appeal on Monday to overturn the April 10 approval of the sale by Judge Cecilia Morris. Schwartz is playing a dual role in the appeal, representing his own clients — the tenants of the Robert Fulton Houses in Chelsea — and also representing a group led by former Councilmember Alan Gerson, who also contested the sale in the hopes of finding alternatives to the Rudin-North Shore-L.I.J. deal.
Another opponent of the sale, Yetta Kurland, a founder of the Coalition for a New Village Hospital, announced last week that the coalition would rally in front of the shuttered hospital on Seventh Ave. at W. 12th St. at 2 p.m. Sat., April 30, to reaffirm the demand for a new hospital with a Level 1 trauma center on the site.
Schwartz said that, in addition to the Bankruptcy Court appeal, advocates are seeking other ways to get a full-service hospital for Greenwich Village, or as close to it as possible.
“We’re trying to work behind the scenes with North Shore-L.I.J. and Rudin to see if we can get something better that what they have proposed,” Schwartz said. Under the sale approved in Bankruptcy Court, North Shore-L.I.J. will spend $100 million, plus a $10 million contribution from Rudin, to convert the six-story O’Toole Building on the west side of Seventh Ave. into a comprehensive healthcare center with a 24/7 free-standing emergency department.
Schwartz said advocates were talking to Rudin about finding other sources of funds to improve the health center and emergency department deal.
“I’m interested in not just being combative but in working positively toward community goals,” Schwartz said. “As a longtime labor lawyer, I’m used to negotiating both sides of an issue,” he said. Schwartz has been the lawyer for the Transport Workers Union in their conflicts with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the years.
Gerson’s group, which includes Dudley Gaffin, an attorney, and Dr. Robert Adelman, formerly of St. Vincent’s Hospital, had claimed the privately negotiated sale of the St. Vincent’s property did not give adequate notice to allow others to offer alternatives to the Rudin-North Shore-L.I.J. deal.
But Gerson last week said there were options other than the Bankruptcy Court appeal to gain time to develop a better hospital deal. One strategy, he said, would be asking the state Department of Health for help during the necessary approval process for North Shore-L.I.J.’s plan for the O’Toole Building. In addition, Gerson said the group could also try to leverage a better hospital deal by taking an active role in the approval process for Rudin’s residential redevelopment of the St. Vincent’s campus on the east side of Seventh Ave.
‘Deny The Waiver’ Pushes Appeal Against Black
February 9, 2011 | 4:23 p.m
Assemblyman Jeffries at the initial announcment of the suit in December.
A coalition of lawmakers and child advocates will announce tomorrow that they will appeal a lower court’s decision to decline to deny schools chancellor Cathie Black a waiver that she needed to assume control of the city’s schools.
Since Black was nominated for the position of chancellor by Mayor Michael Bloomberg three months ago, she has faced much criticism from public school parents and education advocates who think her lack of education experience should prevent her from serving as the Public Schools Chancellor. Bloomberg had to ask Department of Education Commissioner David Steiner for a waiver for Black’s application, and it was granted in late November.
A group called the Deny the Waiver Coalition then sued to have the waiver revoked, and they are now appealing the decision from the lower court. The appellate court will decide on the appeal on March 15. Deny the Waiver Coalition has until Tuesday to submit its brief to the court.
“I think that the argument is very well founded. If the court simply applies the law and doesn’t look a t the case politically then I think it will pass,” said Arthur Schwartz, who is representing the Coalition’s case.
The Coalition includes State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries and parents of public school students from across the city.
If the waiver, approved by Department of Education Commissioner David Steiner, is repealed, then Black will be removed from office. Schwartz said that the Coalition is not concerned about keeping the chancellor’s position vacant until Black is replaced.
“From everything that they’ve said, they’ve surrounded her with a bunch of people who are qualified to run the school system,” Schwartz said. “If they’re all as qualified as they say they are, which they certainly seem to be, then they can last for a couple weeks while they find a replacement for her.”
The press conference will be held at the Department of Education headquarters at 4:30 Thursday.
Voter Registration will be offered at MVD Offices following settlement of lawsuit by coalition of voting rights groups
JULY 7, 2010
ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Tens of thousands of New Mexico residents who visit state motor vehicle offices will be able to register to vote or update their voter registration information, thanks to a settlement agreement reached last week in a lawsuit to bring the state’s Motor Vehicle Division into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. The agreement resolves a lawsuit brought against state officials by voting rights groups Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and D?mos, as well as by the law firms of Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg & Ives, DLA Piper LLP (US), and Advocates for Justice and Reform Now, PC.
Filed in July 2009, the lawsuit charged that New Mexico was failing to comply with the NVRA, a federal civil rights law that requires motor vehicle offices and public assistance agencies to offer voter registration services to their clients. Defendants named in the suit include New Mexico’s Secretary of State, Mary Herrera, and officials from the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD), the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, and the New Mexico Human Services Department.
“The NVRA was enacted to ensure that all citizens have an equal opportunity to register to vote,” said Nicole Kovite, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration Project at Project Vote. “By ignoring this vital law, New Mexico was denying this right to thousands of its residents every year.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of state residents Celia Valdez, Graciela Grajeda, Shawna Allers, and Jesse Rodriguez, all of whom applied for various licenses and benefits at these agencies but were not asked if they wanted to register to vote or to update their voter registration information, as required by the NVRA.
“We are pleased that New Mexico has joined with the plaintiffs in developing a comprehensive agreement to assure full implementation of the NVRA at motor vehicle offices,” said Robert Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. “Thousands of New Mexico residents now will have the opportunity to register to vote simultaneously with applying for a driver’s license or a state identification card.”
Evidence submitted by plaintiffs included the extremely low numbers of registration applications submitted by state MVD offices—less than 3,000 total in 2007-2008—and the results of surveys and investigations that found an astonishing 80% of MVD offices were violating the NVRA.
The settlement requires the Motor Vehicle Division to implement a set of reforms to offer voter registration services to every resident who applies for a driver’s license or state ID card. The MVD must update computer systems, websites, training practices, monitoring, reporting, and other oversight details to offer voter registration with the same degree of assistance as any other MVD license, identification card, or renewal. The Secretary of State will designate a State NVRA Coordinator to oversee statewide compliance, and a local NVRA Coordinator will be assigned to every MVD office. Signs will be posted in MVD offices to inform the public that voter registration services are available, and the Secretary of State website and MVD websites will be updated to include additional voter registration information.
“We are pleased that several years of hard work has resulted in this favorable outcome for New Mexico’s citizens, who may now benefit from the same access to voter registration services at motor vehicle offices that citizens of other states have enjoyed for years,” stated Cindy Ricketts, a Phoenix-based Litigation Partner of DLA Piper LLP (US), who has led that law firm’s pro bono work on the matter since plaintiffs’ counsel began their investigation in 2007.
Arthur Z. Schwartz, Executive Director of Advocates for Justice and Reform Now, noted that “the lawsuit was originally brought on behalf of ACORN, which served as a plaintiff until it shut down operations in New Mexico earlier this year. This settlement, and the expanded voting rights opportunities it creates, are part of its legacy.”
While the case related to MVD offices has been settled, the suit also addresses the state’s failure to comply with another section of the NVRA, which requires that public assistance agencies provide registration services to their clients. In the 2007-2008 election, officials received less than 1,500 registration applications from public assistance offices, despite the fact that the average number of adult participants in the Food Stamp program alone was over 103,000 per month in New Mexico. The case related to these claims is still ongoing.
“We applaud New Mexico’s MVD for this agreement, but it is equally important to ensure that voter registration services are provided to citizens who may not visit motor vehicle offices,” said Allegra Chapman, counsel for D?mos. “All designated state agencies – including public assistance offices serving low-income persons – should follow MVD’s lead and ensure full compliance with the law.”
Nicole Kovite, Project Vote (202) 546-4173 ext. 303
Allegra Chapman, D?mos, (212) 419-8772
Stacie Royster, Lawyers’ Committee, (202) 662-8317
Arthur Schwartz, Advocates for Justice and Reform Now, (917) 923-8136
Ashley Yahn, DLA Piper LLP, (312) 252-4112
David Urias, Freeman, Boyd, Hollander, Goldberg & Ives, (505) 842-9960