In the May 27th issue of The New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin wrote an article (behind a subscriber firewall, alas, but I’m sure a “something search” will lead you to a scan) about legal challenges to New York’s “Stop-and-Frisk” laws and the federal Judge presiding over these cases, the honorable Shira Scheindlin, of New York’s Southern District. Not only am I interested in the fate of stop-and-frisk, a practice that seems blatantly racist and unfair, but I am also a huge fan of the other ruling Sheindlin, the honorable Judge Judith Sheindlin of weekdays on WCBS-NY channel 2 from 4 to 5 pm, and I assumed Toobin would make a mention as to whether or not the two were related. Because: that would be my first question.
He did not, and frankly, I expected The New Yorker’s journalistic standards would be higher. A quick Something search confirms the two are not related, and that reports to the otherwise/attempts to put a “c” in Judge Judy’s last name to match that of Judge Shira are misguided. Still, Judge Scheindlin’s reputation is just as tough as Judy’s—so much so that Mayor Bloomberg had her investigated before her latest stop-and-frisk verdict comes through. While The New Yorker article didn’t make her lineage clear, it did show Judge Scheindlin to rule in favor of civil liberties and the constitutional rights of the individual.
As an avid Judge Judy viewer (thrice weekly at the gym, as described as my “Gym Judy” approach to fitness), I wondered if the c-less Sheindlin would take the same approach. Here are the two cases challenging stop-and-frisk coming before the federal court, and how I feel Judge Judy would rule; the president may involve cases about traffic accidents and unpaid loans, but the cases are real, and the people are real. This is Judge Judy...on the federal bench.
[All information about the anti-Stop-and-Frisk cases, summarized below, that isn’t linked is taken from Toobin’s New Yorker article.]
Case #1: Lingon v. The City Of New York:
This case challenges Stop-and-Frisk at privately-owned properties in the city. The main plaintiff is a man who was waiting in the hallway of his girlfriend’s apartment building in Parkchester— he rang the bell, but being deaf in one ear, the girlfriend didn’t hear him. He was then picked up by a patrolling policeman in an unmarked van and arrested for trespassing in a “drug-prone location.” The arrest was just a misdemeanor, but would have cost the plaintiff his job as a security guard, which requires a license in New York state, and that license would be revoked with an arrest of any kind on his record. The policeman was just acting in accordance with the NYPD’s “Operation Clean Halls” program, through which private landlords can give police officers permission to patrol their property.
Judge S. Scheindlin: Ruled against the city.
She found that the officer probably lied on his report, claiming he could spot the plaintiff’s “suspicious behavior” despite the fact the plaintiff was indoors and the officer was in a van 30 feet away. She was also shocked that a man’s livelihood could be ruined by such “unconstitutional stops.”
What Would Judge J. Sheindlin Do?
Judge Judy has ruled in cases involving police before since they sometimes sue when they feel illegitimate complaints by civilians have damaged their careers enough to pursue financial compensation through the civil courts. Unlike her non-televised counterpart, Judge Judy often sides with police officers, if only because the people who file complaints are usually deeply stupid. In one case, a man complained that an officer who gave him a ticket called him stupid and testified as such under oath in front of Judy, Bird, and the viewing public, only to be proven wrong by the policeman’s own audio recording.
Then again, Judy has ruled against cops, also in traffic situations, but where they are off-duty, because they only thing Judy can tolerate less than stupidity is a bad temper, which is really just stupidity mixed with violence. If the plaintiff’s girlfriend in Lingon showed up to testify that he really was there to meet her—and she’d have to show up, Judge Judy can’t abide hearsay—and the officer’s testimony was as problematic as it was in federal court, I think Judy would use her most common reasoning: that the truth is obvious, because it makes the most sense, and when you’re telling the truth, you don’t have to keep your facts straight. The plaintiff’s story is simple, the officer’s story is riddled with holes, and she’d rule against the city (but wouldn’t grant the plaintiff any money for pain and suffering; she thinks that’s “baloney”).
Case #2: Floyd v. City of New York:
This case challenges Stop-and-Frisk citywide. The main plaintiff is a black medical student who has been stopped and frisked by police twice due to what he feels is merely racial bias. Under Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court established such stops have to be due to “unusual conduct that leads [the officer] to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot,” and that conclusion can’t be based on “inarticulate hunches.” This is why stop-and-frisk stops are also known as “Terry Stops.”
Judge S. Scheindlin: Hasn’t ruled yet, but it looks bad for the city.
The plaintiff’s case uses statistics which report that only 6% of stop-and-frisks lead to arrests, just .01% lead to seizures of guns, and 84% of those stopped-and-frisked are black or hispanic. Judge Scheindlin isn’t as convinced by the city’s testimony, because she doesn’t feel that testimony supporting the policy’s effectiveness in reducing crime has anything to do with whether or not it’s constitutional. A verdict in favor of the plaintiffs looks likely.
What would Judge Judy Do?
Given the Judge Judy principle that the truth is simple, I fear that she’d evaluate the policy based on its bottom-line—its effect on crime stats—as eagerly as Judge Shira would not. Since so many of Judge Judy’s cases involve monies owed, that’s a good place to look for precedent.
When these loans are made among couples, Judy tends to award the plaintiff the amount of the first loan, but if it isn’t even close to paid off by the time the second loan is granted, then the person loaning the money should have known better. It’s an idiot tax of sorts, and while it never seems 100% fair, it does make the most sense. It also makes sense not to lend thousands of dollars to someone you’re not married to who is named after any major city in Texas and/or shows up in Judge Judy’s courtroom wearing shorts.
As such, Judy might argue that the first stop-and-frisk was on the police, but the second was the plaintiff’s responsibility, at least if it took place anywhere near the first incident, or if he was wearing similar clothes or acting in a similar fashion. It would also be hard for her to find sympathy for the plaintiff if the only damage was pain and suffering (“what about my own pain and suffering, having to hear this nonsense?”), as opposed to lost wages or bail, since neither stop-and-frisk lead to an arrest. So, sadly, I think Judy would rule for the city. At least if they all wore long pants and ties.
Case #3 SWITCH: McMillian V. Myron, a.k.a., The “Poodle Bamboozle” episode of Judge Judy
This case is about a man whose dog, “Baby Boy,” runs away, is found by a strange woman, and is then sold by that woman to another woman who then refuses to return the dog to the original owner. The dog escaped a backyard enclosure and isn’t microchipped, but according to both the former owner and his sister, who spotted the dog in this woman’s car in a mall parking lot, the dog in question is “Baby Boy.” The woman claims she paid $40 for the dog from a stranger in a parking lot for her mother, and he’s now hers, period.
Judge J. Sheindlin: “That’s his dog.” I chose this case because it’s always nice to see a grown man lose his shit over a small white poodle named Baby Boy, but also because it proves the Judy “Truth is simple” principle with easy visuals; the dog is brought into the room and it’s clear he knows who his real owner is. It’s also clear that Judy is less willing to rule in your favor if you’re rude, have a neck tattoo, and are more full of shit than an unwalked poodle.
What Would Judge Shira Do? While it’s possible she’d deem the case inadmissible based on how the dog was seized—if the proper permits and paperwork weren’t submitted, for example, she might find the seizure illegal and the rest of the evidence circumstantial—I’d like to think she’d do right by Baby Boy, even more than I’d like to think she’ll do right by the people of New York.