New York City has been trying out a new legislative strategy to deal with civil rights lawsuits it deems weak or frivolous. Civil rights suits typically deal with false arrest, excessive police force, and discrimination. Previously the city would try to settle such cases for small sums. Now, however, the city will attempt to have such cases dismissed or take them to court. Although it is too early to tell if the program is a success initial reports are promising.
The city has already seen a steep increase in cases either dropped or dismissed before trial. Lawyers who take on such cases readily admit they are now more selective about which cases they are willing to handle.
Another part of the city’s strategy is taking cases to trial after a settlement is rejected. The success of this is a bit harder to gauge because the city is on the hook for much higher sums of money and legal fees if they lose these cases. The city recently lost a suit that resulted in damages of $600 to the plaintiff, but NYC was also ordered to pay his legal fees in excess of $75,000. If the city is willing to settle to begin with, it usually means the case is viewed as potentially winnable by the plaintiffs.
This strategic change could be a landmark in New York legislative history. The program’s success could see it expanded to the state level.