Official Photograph/U.S. Department of Justice

As U.S. District Court decides NYCHA settlement, Wilmer Hale, a law firm with questionable legal authority, has been participating in the litigation

NYCHA violated the Open Meetings Law in its retention of Wilmer Hale as outside counsel in the Federal investigation of the Authority’s physical condition standards

By Progress New York Staff

As U.S. District Court Judge William H. Pauley III considers accepting a settlement negotiated between the New York City Housing Authority and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s southern district into violations of the law by NYCHA, the District Court is ignoring news reports that the housing authority’s outside counsel, the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, was retained and paid following violations of the State’s Open Meetings Law. The Open Meetings Law requires that, when Government authorities appropriate public moneys, those votes must be made publicly. The Daily News revealed, in a report, that NYCHA voted in secret over and over again to hire and to spend tens of millions of dollars on outside counsel, including on Wilmer Hale, as the firm is known, in short.

For this report, Wilmer Hale referred questions to Jasmine Blake, a spokesperson for NYCHA, who has a history of making misrepresentations to the press. Ms. Blake did not answer a press inquiry.

Since at least August 2016, Progress Queens, the precursor to Progress New York, sought information from the U.S. Attorney’s Office about the role of Wilmer Hale in the Federal investigation into the physical condition standards at NYCHA’s public housing developments. However, the U.S. Attorney’s Office never disclosed material information that should have been a matter of public record. The Daily News’ report essentially raised the prospect that Federal prosecutors have been negotiating with a law firm with no legal authority to represent NYCHA, since there was illegality in the inception in how the firm was retained. It is not known if Federal prosecutors knew that NYCHA had violated the State’s Open Meetings Law. The press office servicing U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman declined to answer advance questions submitted for this report. For this report, a source inside the Chambers of the Hon. District Court Judge Pauley did not respond to a press inquiry.

Organizing of public housing tenants ignores the issues of illegality in the Federal investigation, including any attempts to seek criminal accountability for lead poisoning

In the face of non-stop efforts by the de Blasio administration and the New York City Council, such as by Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Fordham), to privatise NYCHA, tenant organisations are not yet calling for criminal accountability for the lead poisoning crisis in public housing that may have been the spark behind the Federal investigation into the physical condition standards of NYCHA’s public housing developments. In contrast, in the lead-contaminated water crisis that has faced residents of Flint, MI, for example, criminal charges were filed against three officials for decisions that contributed to the water crisis and for precautions not taken, according to a report broadcast by the CNN cable news network.

Just last night, an umbrella group named the Justice For All Coälition held an anti-privatisation rally at the Boys & Girls Club in Astoria, Queens. According to some anti-gentrification activists, the Justice For All Coälition reliably fails to hold Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) accountable for the criminal acts of his administration, notably and including failing to make a public call to hold the de Blasio administration accountable for the lead poisoning crisis in public housing. Saturday night’s rally was attended by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, winner of the June Democratic Party primary to represent New York’s 14th Congressional District. Press inquiries were not answered by either the Justice For All Coälition or the campaign of Ms. Ocasio-Cortez.

The power vacuum created by the non-aggression pacts between public housing organising and the de Blasio adminstration has permitted controversial figures, such as Leonora Fulani, to seize the issue of NYCHA’s neglected state with unknown motivations. Thus far, those community groups or civic leaders with resources to hold rallies have not yet even called on Mayor de Blasio to be held accountable for giving false information about the number of children exposed to lead, and not enough attention is being paid on private sector landlords for exposing tenants to lead, say activists. One group, Metro IAF, called on former NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye to resign in 2015 over her privatisation plans for public housing. NYCHA was created in the wake the extreme market failure following the onset of the Great Depression, when public opinion regarded “housing construction and maintenance as a ‘public enterprise’ in the same category as transportation and education,” according to a 1934 report published by the New York Times.