Judge Recuses Self In Queens Library Trustees' Lawsuit
Judge Mauskopf Recuses Herself As Queens Library Trustees' Lawsuit Includes Reference To Whistleblower Complaint Currently Being Investigated By Close Friend
August 11, 2014 / Queens Issues / News Analysis & Opinion / Queens Buzz / By Michael Wood. The lawsuit filed by the Queens Libary Trustees took a bit of turn in the road as Judge Roslynn Mauskopf recused herself today, citing close relations to the attorney retained by the Queens Library who is working on an investigation of a whistleblower complaint referenced by the six Queens Library Trustees. The whistleblower complaint investigation is ongoing and preceded the plaintiffs' dismissals and subsequent lawsuit. The photo of the statue to your right was taken in Manhattan in front of the State Supreme Court Appellate Division building.
The six trustees' reference to the whistleblower complaint is alleged to be a seminal event relative to the First Amendment claims made by the Queens Library trustees against Queens Borough President Melinda Katz as an individual. This was Claim 3, which is outlined with the other claims, as well as the Queens Borough President's defense, in a prior report about the Queens Library Trustees' Lawsuit.
Queens Library Whistleblower Complaint
As we understand it, the Whistleblower complaint was presented to the Queens Library Board on July 2, 2014 by George Stamatiades, one of the Queens Library Trustees. The complaint requests the investigation of the leaking of confidential board matters because the public leaks were interfering with the trustees' ability to conduct Queens Library business. George Stamatiades is shown in the photo below right - to the left.
The Whistleblower complaint alleges:
"[Queens Borough President Melinda] Katz Orchestrated Negative News Coverage [of the Queens Library & Trustees] Then Fired Plaintiffs Shortly After I [one of the plaintiffs] Lodged A Whistleblower Complaint To Investigate The Leaks Of Confidential Information."
On July 10, 2014 the Queens Library retained former judge Barbara S. Jones to investigate the leaks of confidential information.
On July 17 the trustees met to discuss the retention of the judge for purposes of this investigation, where supporters of the Queens Borough President were in attendance, as well as those who were supportive of the investigation into the Queens Borough Public Library Trustees' confidential information leaks.
Six days later, on July 23, 2014, the six trustees who were supporting the whistleblower investigation into the leaks of confidential information were dismissed by the Queens Borough President. This was the timeline provided in the complaint.
Judge Mauskopf Recuses Herself From Queens Library Trustees' Lawsuit
Judge Mauskopf said in her statement recusing herself that:
".. the [whistleblower] investigation and its outcome are directly relevant to the plaintiff's claims."
Judge Mauskopf went on to say she believed that she could fairly judge the trial, but that according to Canon 2 of the law she must recuse herself. Here is an excerpt of her public statement.
"So let me explain the basis for the recusal. I do have a very longstanding and very close friendship with the attorney retained by library to do the investigation. The relationship I would characterize is like that of a close relative and of a degree not just with the investigator, but the broader family of the investigator.
That raises an appearances problem under Canon 2, particularly given the fact that the investigation and its outcome are directly relevant to the plaintiff's claims. Indeed, the plaintiffs raised the facts that are being investigated as key and relevant in their supplemental papers.
As you all know, the investigation, the internal investigation was prompted by a whistleblower complaint filed by Plaintiff Stamatiades and was supported at a board meeting by all of the other plaintiffs here. And as the supplemental papers indicate, all of the plaintiff's were fired six days after the filing and the discussion of this whistleblower complaint.
The results of the internal investigation are central to the claims here, both the contract laws claim and the First Amendment retaliation claims. The investigation, the internal investigation appears to be central to the fact development in this case.
It is likely that the results of that investigation will be the subject of discovery. Given the tenor of the dispute between the parties, there is a potential for discovery disputes related to that internal investigation.
Certainly, the results of the internal investigation -- its credibility may likely be an issue in this case. There is also the potential for the investigator to be a witness in this particular case, either in discovery or in some other capacity.
And while I am fully confident that I could be fair and impartial, given the nature of the relationship, the degree of that relationship and the critical nature of the internal investigation and its results to the claims in this case, Canon 2 of the code of conduct and the guidance given by the advisory opinions require my recusal in this case."
So the clerk will be reassigning this case to another judge.
Queens Borough President's Office Response
UPDATE. August 12, 2014. Today the Queens Borough President's Office informed us that the magistrate judge made a report and recommendation to deny the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction [this was previously done by the judge who recused herself]. The new judge assigned to the case is expected to decide upon this recommendation within the next couple of days. In the photo at right is Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
We asked the Queens Borough President's Office for comments related to the whistleblower complaint and judge recusal. The following is their statement:
“It is disturbing [to Queens Borough President Melinda Katz] that Mr. Galante [Queens Borough President CEO], without Board approval, can direct Library resources to be used in this manner. These resources should be going toward providing Library services to communities like the Rockaways, who still have their branch being run out of a trailer. These are all diversionary tactics and they are tiresome. The QPL doesn’t belong to one trustee or to one executive director. We need to let the remaining Trustees move on with the business of the Library, including opening up the records to New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.”
To fully understand the background, context and issues involved is this very complicated, very heated and very public battle for control of the Queens Borough Public Library, click on the following two links to prior reports published about it. And stay tuned.
Click here for the first story we posted about the Queens Library Reform Legislation which talks about how the conflict began, including a review of the [at the time] pending NYS legislation. And click here for our report about events since passage of the law including about the Queens Library Trustees' lawsuit.