Wednesday, August 03, 2005

My big day in court

This morning Judge Feinman heard oral arguments in Lesczynski v. Bloomberg, my lawsuit to overturn the city's matching funds program. It was a lot more low-key than I expected. The courtroom was a small room in the old court building at 80 Centre Street, not the big fancy Supreme Court building at 60 Centre. There were about 18 cases on the docket, I was #6, but the city attorney and I were the first parties to sign in with the clerk, so the judge heard us first.

The clerk called for us to come back to the judge's chamber, and I assumed they must want us to fill out some form or something, but he actually sat us down and had the hearing right there in his office. There was no call to order or swearing in or anything like that; the judge just started casually asking us questions.

A reporter from the NY Sun showed up late, and the stupid court officer told the reporter he wasn't allowed to join us, but luckily Mark Axinn arrived at the same time and overheard that conversation, and insisted that they allow the reporter and Mark to observe the proceedings.

So we're all in the judge's office at a conference table, and the judge laid into the city attorney for sloppy paperwork. The judge received the notice of motion but not the accompanying memorandum of law, and he had to call the clerk's office yesterday to get a copy, which irritated him. The judge also reprimanded the city attorney for citing the wrong statute numbers twice in her motion papers. That's not a big deal, but it was nice to see the judge peeved at the defendants early on. :-)

We spent a bit of time on the city's technical defenses regarding statute of limitations and standing, but the judge cut through that quickly and spent a lot more time on the merits of the case -- the free speech arguments. The city attorney went right for Buckley v. Valeo, the US Supreme Court case that upheld the presidential matching funds program. The judge pointed out before I could the key difference between the presidential matching funds program and the city version is the feds at least give you an optional checkoff to fund that on your 1040, whereas there is no opt-out provision in the city program. The city attorney didn't have a response to that one.

I spoke some more about the right to free speech including the right not to speak, blah blah blah, and the judge seemed very appreciative of my arguments. Overall, it went as well as I could possibly expect. The judge said he is intimately familiar with the campaign finance law, that he has been reading a lot of case law and history of campaign finance, and is very interested in this topic. An attorney for the Campaign Finance Board was present but not representing the defendants, and the judge acknowledged that he has many cases on his docket regarding participants in the program, and the judge joked to the CFB attorney that it would be great if he ruled the program was unconstitutional because he could clear her from his caseload. :-)

The judge thanked us and advised us that he would render a decision "but it will be awhile". He had us fill out envelopes so he could send us the decision. Mark says the guideline is typically 60 days for a decision. As I said, it went as well as could possibly be expected, so now all we can do is wait and get lucky.


Post a Comment

<< Home