NEW YORK -- A federal appeals court block of a judge's ruling that found the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk policy discriminated against minorities may be short lived, depending on the outcome of next week's mayoral election.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday that the ruling by U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin would be on hold pending the outcome of an appeal by the city, a fight that could be dropped if Democrat Bill de Blasio, who is leading the polls by 39 points, has his way.
De Blasio has said he would drop objections to the decision, which had called for a monitor to oversee major changes to the police tactic.
His Republican rival, Joe Lhota, said the city's next mayor must push forward with the appeal.
"For the next 60 days, we don't want an outsider coming in who doesn't know anything about crime fighting, putting the lives of our police officers and the lives of the public on the line," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Friday on his weekly WOR Radio show.
Police officers have "had their names dragged through the mud over the past year and I think they deserve a lot better than that," Bloomberg said. "We want them to understand that we support them and we are in conformity with the requirements of the law."
The topic became an election flashpoint, resonating nationwide. Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was shouted down over the tactic by students during a speech at Brown University earlier in the week.
"This is indeed an important decision for all New Yorkers and for the men and women of the New York City Police Department who work very hard day in and day out to keep this city safe," Kelly said Thursday.
The three-judge panel also took the unusual step of removing Scheindlin from the case. It said she ran afoul of the code of conduct for U.S. judges by misapplying a related case ruling that allowed her to take the case, and by giving media interviews during the trial. It noted she had given media interviews and public statements responding to criticism of the court. In a footnote, it cited interviews with the New York Law Journal, The Associated Press and The New Yorker magazine.
In the AP interview, Scheindlin said reports that Bloomberg had reviewed her record to show that most of her 15 written "search and seizure" rulings since she took the bench in 1994 had gone against law enforcement was a "below-the-belt attack" on judicial independence. She said it was "quite disgraceful" if the mayor's office was behind the study.
Scheindlin said in a statement later Thursday she consented to the interviews under the condition she wouldn't comment on the ongoing case.
"And I did not," she said.
Scheindlin said some reporters used quotes from written opinions that gave the appearance she had commented on the case but "a careful reading of each interview will reveal that no such comments were made."
In 2007, Scheindlin told the same lawyers who had argued a similar case before her to bring the stop and frisk case to her, because she said the two were related. Not long after, the current case was filed by the attorneys.
The appeals court said a new judge would be assigned at random to handle further decisions and said it would hear arguments in March on the formal appeal by the city. That judge may choose to make alterations to Scheindlin's rulings, but it would be unlikely.
Scheindlin decided in August that the city violated the civil rights of tens of thousands of blacks and Hispanics by disproportionally stopping, questioning and sometimes frisking them. She assigned a monitor to help the police department change its policy and training programs on the tactic.
Stop and frisk has been around for decades, but recorded stops increased dramatically under Bloomberg's administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. Four minority men who said they were targeted because of their races filed a lawsuit, and it became a class-action case.
To make a stop, police must have reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to occur or has occurred, a standard lower than the probable cause needed to justify an arrest. Only about 10 percent of the stops result in arrests or summonses, and weapons are found about 2 percent of the time.
Scheindlin heard a bench trial that ended in the spring and coincided with a groundswell of backlash against the stop-and-frisk tactic. She noted in her ruling this summer that she wasn't putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which represented the four men who sued, said it was dismayed that the appeals court delayed "the long-overdue process to remedy the NYPD's" stop-and-frisk practices and was shocked that it "cast aspersions" on the judge's professional conduct and reassigned the case.