NEW YORK – A judge overseeing a discrimination case against the fire department abandoned his neutral role, was influenced by press accounts of the proceedings and ignored key evidence, city attorneys charged in court papers.
In a brief filed in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, city attorneys argued that U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn should be removed, his decision reversed and the case given to another judge for trial.
Garaufis appointed an independent monitor last October to oversee the Fire Department of New York's effort to improve diversity in its recruiting after finding that the city had failed to ensure that enough blacks and minorities were being hired.
At the time, he called the FDNY "a stubborn bastion of white male privilege."
Of the 11,200 uniformed firefighters in the city, 9 percent are black or Hispanic. More than half the residents in the city of 8 million identify with a racial minority group.
In the court papers filed Wednesday, city attorneys said Garaufis "lost any semblance of neutrality" while overseeing the case.
They accused the District Court of taking on "the roles of witness and advocate" on behalf of the Vulcan Society fraternal order of black firefighters. The group alleged in the case brought by the federal government that exams used by the FDNY to recruit new members were discriminatory, according to the papers.
City attorneys also said the judge made numerous legal errors and that evidence was analyzed in a "one-sided manner," which "calls the District Court's impartiality into serious question."
They said the judge also appeared to be preoccupied with news stories about the case, "especially those he perceived as critical of him." That, they said, "reinforces the many other indications that the city was deprived of a fair and neutral fact-finder."
Garaufis appointed a former federal prosecutor, Mark S. Cohen, to watch over the recruitment, testing and hiring of new firefighters. He ruled that an independent monitor would oversee the effort to make the fire department more diverse for a period of at least 10 years.