Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Judge Madden Re-Opens Willets Point Case "In The Interests Of Justice"

In a ruling that will send shock waves throughout the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) corridors down at 110 William Street – not to mention City Hall – New York State Supreme Court Judge Joan Madden has decided to reopen a lawsuit filed by Willets Point United Inc. (WPU) "in the interests of justice". Judge Madden's decision comes roughly three months after hearing oral arguments in which the City urged the judge to deny WPU's motion to reopen the case.

But Judge Madden has rejected the City's arguments that she could not reopen her prior decision that dismissed WPU's lawsuit. Instead, Judge Madden ruled that she has inherent power to reopen this case, and she agrees with WPU that the City attempting to proceed with "Phase One" of the proposed Willets Point development without approval of the Van Wyck Expressway ramps is "in direct contradiction of [the City's] prior representations" to the court – representations on which Judge Madden relied when dismissing the case during 2010. The City had told the court in sworn depositions from Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber and an EDC official that it would not condemn any property at Willets Point until the Van Wyck ramps were approved. Today those ramps remain unapproved, but the city has gone back on its word and commenced condemnation anyway.

A key portion of Judge Madden's decision is the following:

"... the City acknowledged that the [Van Wyck] ramps were an integral part of the plan and that the plan as conceived could not proceed without the ramps, and repeatedly and clearly stated that it would not seek to exercise its power of eminent domain prior to obtaining approval of the ramps. In reaching the decision to dismiss the petition, I relied upon the City’s representations. As the City has now changed its position and is seeking to exercise its powers of eminent domain without approval of the ramps, in direct contradiction of its prior representations, and based on the significance of the ramps to the plan, I conclude that the integrity of the decision-making process has been impacted and sufficient reasons exist for me to consider vacating my prior judgment. The question remains as to whether doing so would be in the interests of justice. ... I conclude that I have the inherent power to entertain petitioners’ concerns regarding the City’s new staged approach to the development of Willets Point and to consider the adequacy of [the] Technical Memorandum, and that it is in the interests of justice to do so."

Attorney Michael Gerrard of the law firm Arnold & Porter LLP, who represents Willets Point United Inc. and presented the case on August 17, 2011 before Judge Madden, said:

"This decision casts a large dark cloud over the Willets Point development. It upholds our claims that the City's breach of its promises not to condemn property without approval of the ramps may have serious legal consequences. Many further proceedings lie ahead but today, at last, a judge has heard us and agreed with us that the City cannot run roughshod over the environmental laws and over the rights of the businesses that are struggling to survive."

WPU is pleased that Judge Madden has recognized that our complaints of wrongdoing by the City are legitimate, and are grounds for additional legal review.

WPU will be back in Judge Madden's courtroom on January 27, 2012 at 10AM.

Judge Madden's Williets Point Preliminary Decision

Video of portions of the oral arguments before Judge Madden on August 17, 2011; courtesy of the Queens Ledger newspaper: