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City Council Formally Appeals Decision That Stripped PAB’s Discipline Power

Patti Singer

The court battles over the Police Accountability Board continue. File photo

City Council has formally appealed a ruling that said the Police Accountability Board could not discipline officers of the Rochester Police Department.

Attorneys for City Council filed the appeal May 20, about three weeks after State Supreme Court Justice John Ark ruled against City Council and for the Rochester Police Locust Club.

Legal briefs are expected to be filed in July.

This the second time the PAB’s fate has been appealed to a higher court.

In 2019, Ark had issued a temporary injunction that would have kept a referendum on Local Law No. 2 to establish the PAB off the November ballot. The appeals court reversed that decision and the referendum passed with 75% of the vote.

City Council President Loretta Scott cited that victory when council announced on May 7 that it would appeal Ark’s ruling on the legality of portions of the law.

The judge found that the parts of Local Law No. 2 that would have allowed the PAB to conduct disciplinary hearings and to discipline police officers were invalid and unenforceable. He ruled they violated state law and the city’s charter.

However, Ark said that the parts of the law that do not relate to discipline could stand.

The judge referred the law back to City Council “to be reconciled and made compliant with New York State law and the Rochester City Charter.”

But Scott said at the time that City Council would focus on the appeal. She said Ark’s ruling “negated the will of the citizens of Rochester” because “they had voted to give this Board the power to investigate complaints, to subpoena information, and to set minimum discipline by establishing a disciplinary matrix, formed with input from the Chief of Police” and the police union.

Ark had ruled that Local Law No. 2 unlawfully inhibited the mayor from collective bargaining over terms and conditions of RPD officer employment. That was the major argument of the Rochester Police Locust Club in trying to stop the referendum in the first place.

With the way the PAB was set up, discipline would be taken outside the chain of command.

In announcing on May 7 the intent to file the appeal, attorney Andrew Celli said Ark’s ruling prevented the PAB only from setting discipline. “We are now going to ask the higher court to change that ruling and to find that New York state granted the power to the city of Rochester and the city of Rochester has the power to give that authority to the Police Accountability Board.”

The PAB has been meeting to set up bylaws and it is searching for an executive director.

Interim board chair Shani Wilson said on May 7 that the PAB’s intent “is to continue to do the work for which we have been appointed and within the confines of the law.” She said it was not a party to the litigation and would not have further comment.