The Bronx Defenders Get Punished

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s criminal justice coordinator, Elizabeth Glazer, has handed down her “punishment” to the Bronx Defenders for the participation of two of their attorneys in the “hands up” video that the City and PBA used to deflect attention from truly serious matters, ranging from the needless killing of unarmed citizens like Eric Garner and Akai Gurley to the police insubordination and work stoppage because the mayor didn’t support cops killing unarmed citizens.

From the NYLJ, the two lawyers who were shown in the video, Ryan Napoli and Kumar Rao, have resigned and the Board of Bronx Defenders has suspended Robin Steinberg without pay for 60 days.

Though Mayor Bill de Blasio said last week that every option was on the table as a consequence for the “Hands Up” video, including defunding The Bronx Defenders, Elizabeth Glazer, director of the mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice told the group Wednesday that she accepted the plan.

No doubt they hope that throwing these warm bodies under the bus will silence the PBA cries for blood and make the police not hate the mayor as much as they do now. And will, no matter what the mayor does.  If only similar concern was shown when a member of the PBA spilled blood.

Worse yet, Glazer writes:

The Board will immediately retain Jason Lilien, the former Bureau Chief of the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau and the principal author of the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which imposed new duties and obligations on the boards of non-profits. In coordination with my office and MOCS, Mr. Lilien will conduct a complete review of the organization and advise the Board on policy and governance reforms necessary to address specifically DOI’s findings.

Perfect, because the funding for Bronx Defenders will be far better spent on paying for this nonsense than representing the indigent.  After all, everybody knows how indigent defense is rolling in so much dough they have oodles of money to squander on paying non-productive former state functionaries.

And then, they now have a former Attorney General bureau chief telling an indigent defense organization how to function.  Perhaps it didn’t dawn on the mayor’s office, but the attorney general’s office is on the other side of the criminal justice function, the side that wants to see every client of Bronx Defenders convicted.  Of course, to the bureaucratic mindset, government functionaries are wonderful, dedicated and all serve the greater interest of the good of the people, as long as it’s on their checklist.

But the kicker is this:

In conjunction with [Glazer’s] Office, within 60 days the City’s Corporation Counsel will identify a new training program for all employees of The Bronx Defenders to ensure that its attorneys are zealously representing the interests of their clients and observing their responsibilities as officers of the court. This training program will be put into place within 30 days of Ms. Steinberg’s return.

So New York City’s Corporation Counsel, whose job it is to defend police for wrongful conduct, will now have their finger in the training of public defenders to “ensure” they are zealously representing their clients?

The one thing that has never been in doubt was that Bronx Defenders did its job well.  There is, on the other hand, some serious doubt about the efficacy of Corp Counsel’s office, it being the place where third stringers get jobs after they’ve been turned away by the two US Attorney’s offices, five city district attorney’s offices, and the Special Narcotics prosecutor.

The notion that anyone at Corp Counsel should have any part of their anatomy, whether a finger or worse, involved in what Bronx Defenders do is ridiculous.  If anything, Robin Steinberg ought to teach Corp Counsel lawyers how to do their job, though she wouldn’t because they are the adversaries in the system.

All of this over a momentary appearance in a music video?  Of course not. The video was trivial, though the punishment, that skims money out of indigent defense so it can be used in the Full Employment For Former Government Functionaries Act, will directly harm the poor in the Bronx.

This is about the mayor appeasing the cops, at the expense of Bronx Defenders, and more importantly, the defendants in the Bronx courts who have long suffered mightily at the hands of cops who target their neighborhoods, their youth of color.

But hey, it’s much easier to beat up on Bronx Defenders and black and Hispanic young men who constitute the vast majority of Bronx criminal defendants than to take on cops killing people.  And the irony is that the PBA won’t be “satisfied,” because this has nothing to do with satisfaction or any claimed horrible offense from the music video. This is about deflecting public attention from the cops and the city, in the hope that the public is foolish and vapid enough to buy into the nonsense that this music video matters, but cops killing people is nothing to lose sleep over.

Thanks, Liz Glazer, for making the Bronx even more fabulous than it was before.  The City didn’t punish Bronx Defenders. They punished the poor of the Bronx. But anything to keep the cops off de Blasio’s back, if only for a day or two.

22 thoughts on “The Bronx Defenders Get Punished

  1. Bartleby the Scrivener

    Did they appear in the video representing the organization or as private citizens? On the surface I have no issue with the mayor declining to fund an organization that is encouraging people to kill police officers (even if it’s just to his view), but I am wondering why this is linking back to the leadership of the organization unless they did it as representatives thereof.

    Also, I have problems with the idea of the fox guarding the hen house. The DA’s office should not be in charge of regulating how defense attorneys do their jobs.

    With regards to the slowdown, as I understand it, they didn’t stop arresting people for violent crimes, theft, driving drunk, and so on. If that’s the case, I tend to support their slowdown, since we have a whole lot of ridiculous laws on the books that are simply used to harass people. After reading Ham Sandwich Nation, I cannot help but think we should eliminate the vast majority of laws we have on the books.

    1. SHG Post author

      The best way to answer your question is to watch the video, perhaps read the prior posts, and bring yourself up to date rather than read the last piece and ask the questions that I (apparently) wasted my time writing about.

  2. Greg Lubow

    Imagine our surprise: Politicians pandering to those claiming to be victims (a comment that is equally appropriate to the preceding discussion, The Perfect Victim Narrative), but in this case victims of what? As reprehensible as I find suggestions to engage in violence against anyone, including police, it is an exercise of free speech In the nearly 2 months since the video was released (mid-December) has anyone in NYC or anywhere else claimed that the video or its message influenced them to take action against the police? Has anyone said ‘I was not going to do anything about the injustice of Ferguson and Staten Island, but then I saw this video and I changed my mind”?
    These forced ‘firings’ and Robin’s suspension require a response from all defense organizations – they cannot be cowed by DeBlasio and Glazer’s excessive retribution. Standing silently by when government attacks one group will only embolden the city to try to impose similar restraints on all.

    1. SHG Post author

      Now that the issue has been addressed and punishment leveled, I’m sure the NYSACDL will put forth some pointless and belated tepid bit of fluff since it no longer matters. I suspect all the internal hand-wringing will prove yet again its irrelevant in critical issues to the criminal defense bar.

      The time to act is before the shit hits the fan. But not our beloved NYSACDL. NYSDA’s Jonathan Gradess got a letter out in advance, but how many officers and board members of NYSACDL had the balls to take a stand? Don’t tell me. I already know, Greg.

      Should it happen again, and I agree that this only emboldens the cops to use the defense bar as their foil, it’s comforting to know that the organized criminal defense bar will be found cowering and sniveling in the corner.

      1. Greg Lubow

        Ah, Scott, we will fight the fight in our own ways and like this one some times we travel a similar though parallel path.
        NYSACDL is an org that has a large, vocal, and opinionated board of criminal defense lawyers – not the easiest group to get to agree at all; NSYDA on the other hand has a strong executive director with more than 30 years tenure and the ability to put out positions rapidly (and I am a member of NSYDA as well, just not on the board).
        I have not been able to ascertain which of the myriad institutional defense orgs, alt institutional defense orgs,(all of whom had a stake in this witch hunt) or the various criminal bar associations throughout the city, the Island and Westchester put out letters of support; or even letters of reaction. Do you know?
        NYSACDL is not the enemy in this case.

        1. SHG Post author

          No, it’s not the enemy. It doesn’t exist. They did send a letter, tepid and last minute, after all the fighting was over while the board argued and a substantial number of board members voted against even sending a weak letter. It’s not the enemy. It’s not much of anything.

  3. John Burgess

    The whole thing could have been handled by an e-mail from the head of the Bronx Defenders to all staff saying, in essence, “Dudes… we don’t do shit like this. It makes us look bad and undercuts our mission. Let’s do a little thinking before we emote, mkay?”

    I grant, however, that there are no new jobs that would result.

    1. Mark Draughn

      From the DOI report, it sounds like that’s probably what Executive Director Robin Steinberg did, and thus one of the complains from the DOI is that she “failed to discipline the staff after learning of their conduct.” This is one of the sillier parts of the DOI findings. Maybe she’s just inclined to try to correct bad behavior by means that don’t show up in the paperwork — e.g. staff discussions, changes to training materials, and simply remembering some lessons learned next time something like that comes up. It was just a few lawyers who came in on a Sunday to be in a music video, after all. It’s not like they screwed up a client’s representation or something important.

      1. SHG Post author

        Maybe it was a trivial decision that blew up because of later circumstances, when it would have been shrugged off had it happened any other time as being monumentally inconsequential in the scheme of what they do. This was a “never do this again” opportunity, and nothing more, until it got tied up on cop politics.

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  5. Eric Napoli

    Here is my very biased view, as the brother of one of the Bronx Defenders who has been slandered and defamed throughout the press for a 2 second appearance. It is very telling that even though anyone with half a brain can see that the Bronx Defenders never intended to partake in the promotion of violence towards the police, the reaction of the police union (and many a pundit and conservative) has been — not to accept the explanation in good faith — but to pounce, to seek blood and destroy. What kind of society are we living in?

    [Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.]

    1. SHG Post author

      Curious that you write in support of your brother, which is a fine thing to do, by extolling the virtues of Windy’s and Radley’s posts, both of which exist only because of what was posted here, while making no mention of my posts. Yet, you have no qualms about using my soapbox to promote your post to an audience that would never know you existed. No, it doesn’t work that way.

  6. Eric Napoli

    I apologize if I have somehow interrupted on a conversation limited to only a few prequalified voices. If you feel like my description of the events has nothing to offer, then please feel free to delete my comment and disregard my statements.

    I apologize if I have violated territorial rules or a specific peaking order on how to make comments or who to link to first. It has been a real struggle to find non-sensationalist viewpoints on this matter. I came upon Windy and Radley’s posts first and today to yours (which I believe add positively to the conversation, which is why I used your soapbox). I have tweeted the link to this your blog post as well.

    Nevertheless, I will take your response to mean that I am not welcome at your site.

    1. SHG Post author

      Sad to see that you’ve completely misapprehended every possible aspect of my comment. I won’t jump to any assumption that your brother is half the dumbass you are, but you do him no favors by offending those who support Bronx Defenders, and you’ve disgraced yourself with your narcissistic defensiveness. No, you’re not welcome here. This is a law blog, meant for people of moderate intelligence or better. You fail to make the cut.

    2. Sgt. Schultz

      SHG was the first and most prominent blawger to back Bronx Defenders, and yet you think it’s a good idea to come here, be flagrantly offensive, double down by being a flaming narcissistic asshole. Eric, the first rule of holes is when in one, stop digging.

      If you wanted to help your brother, the wise thing to do would have been to apologize for your lack of gratitude. Instead, you attack like a petty butthurt bitch. SHG may not be willing to impute your arrogance and ignorance to your brother, but a great many other people will most assuredly do so. Your brother doesn’t have a lot of fans right now, and you’ve managed to alientate the few he has by your comments.

      You really need to pull your head out of your ass, kid. You’re a disaster, for you and your brother.

      1. Eric Napoli

        I do sincerely apologize. As mentioned, I found SImplejustice last. I was hoping to add something to the conversation in one of the very few places I found to discuss the issue openly.

        I must have misinterpreted the tone of SHG’s original response. I was sincerely taken aback. And I made a mistake of saying so, especially on someone else’s turf. In this type of situation the best thing would have been to say nothing and not look for confrontation. I should have known better. I apologize for that. I do. instead of discussing the matter now we’re all discussing just how much of a dumb ass and disaster I am.

        I made a rookie mistake, which I should not have, and was called on it. I guess justice is served. Simple justice 😉

        1. SHG Post author

          We forgive easily here, and it’s over. And you are right, the important discussion is about Bronx Defenders.

  7. Daniel

    This is Picard double facepalm stuff. Eric, you are surfing the web trying to build support for your brother (who did something incredibly foolish), and instead of building support, you’re just pissing people off. I would assume that if you were smart enough to apologize, Scott would have deleted your comment and shielded you from infamy, but you weren’t, and here you are.

    Lucky for Robin that she doesn’t have a brother like you, or she would be out of a job too.

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