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Queens Chronicle

More Queens Library courtroom drama as judge bails

Federal jurist recuses herself over friendship with lawyer tied to case

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Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014 5:21 pm | Updated: 12:13 pm, Thu Aug 14, 2014.

The fast-and-furious legal battle over the future of the Queens Library board took yet another turn Monday morning when the federal judge hearing the case recused herself.

United States District Judge Roslynn Mauskopf called the two sides in Arrington, et. al. v. Katz et. al. into court Monday morning to tell them she was removing herself from the case, due to a close relationship with an attorney whose involvement in a related matter had just come to her attention.

The case was brought by six trustees who were just dismissed from the board by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, under a new state law giving her and Mayor de Blasio new powers to remove library board members, a measure passed in light of the financial and governing scandal that has developed around the library and its president, Tom Galante. The trustees claim the law and their firing were an unconstitutional assertion of government power over what is technically a private institution, though one that gets 90 percent of its funding from the taxpayer.

De Blasio dismissed two trustees the same day, July 23, but they did not bring suit.

Mauskopf on Monday morning told attorneys for the six board members, Katz and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is also targeted by the suit, that she had just learned Friday night of an internal investigation at the library that was prompted by a "whistleblower complaint" filed by George Stamatiades, one of the plaintiffs. The investigation, she said, is being conducted by an attorney with whom she has a "very close friendship."

"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," Mauskopf said, according to a transcript of the proceedings provided to the media. 

The judge said the investigation is central to the development of the facts in the case, that its credibility may become an issue and that the investigator she is so close to is likely to be called as a witness.

"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."

The judge did not name the investigator handling the internal library probe, but one of the attorneys referred to him or her as a "Judge Jones." Former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones is now an attorney with the Manhattan firm Zuckerman Spaeder, and lists internal investigations among her specialties.

A woman who answered the phone at Jones' office said the former judge was not available and would neither confirm nor deny that she is the investigator in the library case.

Mauskopf described Arrington v. Katz as a "fast-moving" case that raises "some incredibly complex issues that don't come up very often in litigation."

In addition to the trustees' case, the library controversy has sparked a federal criminal investigation and a city audit, which itself has led to other litigation in state court.

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