Court Rejects Giuliani's Policy on AIDS Benefits

 

New York's highest court ruled that the fascist administration of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had created illegal obstacles for people with HIV or AIDS to obtain public assistance.

 

October 20, 1999

by RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, New York Times

New York's highest court ruled on Tuesday that the administration of New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had created illegal obstacles for people with H.I.V. or AIDS to obtain public assistance.

In a 7-to-0 ruling, the Court of Appeals said the city must stop requiring people with H.I.V. or AIDS to submit to the rigorous screening process that it imposed on other people applying for welfare, food stamps and Medicaid.

While the city maintained that its requirements for eligibility were procedural and not onerous, the court decided that the city's policies for determining benefits violated a city law intended to make it simpler for poor people with AIDS or H.I.V. to receive assistance.

The decision is the latest in a series of rebukes by the courts and the Federal Government to Giuliani's attempts to make it more difficult for the poor to obtain government benefits.

The ruling also represents a setback for the administration's campaign to overhaul the city's welfare program, which among other things has required all applicants to undergo stringent background checks that include interviews with city investigators charged with verifying applicants' income, assets and residency.

The city instituted the verification policy, known as the Eligibility Verification Review, in 1995 as a way to insure that only qualified people receive all types of public assistance benefits. The administration contended that the policy weeded out thousands of recipients who were receiving public assistance fraudulently, and said it had discouraged others from trying to bilk the system.

But critics, including Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the poor, have argued that the city policy unfairly denied public assistance benefits to thousands of New Yorkers, and discouraged thousands more from going through the process, even when they had legitimate claims. In particular, advocates for people with H.I.V. said the administration had made it unreasonably difficult for those people to obtain benefits, sometimes delaying the start of assistance by three months.

In addition to instituting the background checks, Giuliani tried to do away with the Division of AIDS Services, which provides some form of public assistance to 25,000 people.

In response, the City Council passed a bill in 1997 that made the agency permanent, and required it to provide a variety of benefits, including food stamps, welfare grants and Medicaid coverage, to low-income New York City residents with AIDS or H.I.V. who request assistance. Giuliani signed the measure into law.

The ruling issued today involved a lawsuit brought by Daniel Hernandez, an H.I.V.-positive man who applied for public assistance from the Division of AIDS Services in July 1997. As part of his application, he was interviewed, and he submitted all the documents, including medical records, required by the city, according to court records. Later, he was told by the city that he would have to undergo another screening in the Human Resources Administration's Brooklyn office. The city told him that if he did not attend the second screening, he would not be eligible for public assistance.

He sued instead.

Under city procedures, low-income residents with H.I.V. apply to the Division of AIDS Services for public assistance, and that agency determines their eligibility. But the administration has required that the applicants go through the second screening, the verification review, as other welfare applicants do.

It is this second screening that the Court of Appeals said violated the 1997 city law. In their decision, the judges ruled that the law was intended to eliminate bureaucratic hurdles like this review for people with AIDS, because they were among the most vulnerable low-income New Yorkers.

Writing for the court, Judge George Bundy Smith said the 1997 law "was enacted to facilitate access to necessary public benefits and services for individuals suffering from clinical/symptomatic H.I.V. illness and AIDS in New York City."

He added that "nothing in this decision should be taken as prohibiting efforts or procedures to prevent or eliminate fraud."

Deborah Sproles, a spokeswoman for the city's Human Resources Administration, said the city would accommodate the ruling by having the Division of AIDS Services conduct a more in-depth initial eligibility review. She said the city would not be dissuaded from doing thorough background checks.

Housing Works, a group that assists people with AIDS and aided the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called the ruling an important victory. "I think this is a big defeat for the Giuliani administration," said Michael Kink, legislative coordinator for the group. "The unanimous decision shows the court will not tolerate mistreatment of people with disabilities in the name of welfare reform."

Under the administration's screening program, all H.I.V.-positive applicants for public assistance had been required to report to the eligibility review center at 330 Jay Street in Brooklyn. They were interviewed by investigators wearing badges, and were asked questions about income, assets and residency. (Once the suit was filed, however, the city stopped requiring applicants to go to Brooklyn and instead sent investigators to their homes.) If the applicant was not home, investigators questioned neighbors or landlords to verify information.

But the administration's policy drew protests from Democratic lawmakers and advocates for the poor, who said that the Division of AIDS Services already subjected clients applying for public assistance to a rigorous review process before granting them benefits. That process requires the applicant to provide the city with his or medical records, proof of income and identity and other personal information.

More than that, though, critics of the policy said it was especially hard on people with AIDS, because it required them to make several trips to different city offices to establish eligibility. The critics noted that the 1997 law explicitly required the city to provide benefits to people with AIDS or H.I.V. at a single location.

Housing Works, which provided legal representation to the plaintiffs in the case, said it could not give specific figures on how many people were denied benefits or discouraged from applying for them as a result of the city's policy.

 

webmaster note:

What's equally pissant is this fascist Mayor's vindictiveness in withholding monies awarded to Housing Works...pure retribution on the part of el Ducé Giuliani in trying to destroy a community-based organization working in the housing vacuum of New York City Government. __see latest court ruling against Rudy


May 23, 1999

The Giuliani Way: Sue and Be Sued, and Sometimes Win by Losing
by BRUCE LAMBERT, New York Times

Most people dread going to court, but not Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. He has repeatedly demonstrated during his five years at City Hall that he loves a legal battle.

The Mayor has sued people ranging from street artists to President Clinton, to cite two cases he appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. He won the suit against the President but lost his case against the artists. More often than not, Giuliani loses. Why, then, does he sue -- and get sued -- so often? Both supporters and critics cite several reasons, including his contentious style, reluctance to compromise on his policies, and his prior career as a prosecutor.

Detractors say he uses litigation to prevent other public officials from doing their jobs and to suppress dissent by curbing protest and making records inaccessible.

Allies of the Mayor say that as an innovative Republican, he has to be litigious to defend policy changes unpopular with traditional Democrats in a Democratic town.

And then there is his combative personality -- perhaps the strongest factor, in the view of those who have studied his record.

"They're all part of the mix, but at the core is his personality," said Burt Neuborne, who teaches law at New York University. "It's his biggest strength and biggest weakness." As for the losses, "it means he's pushing the envelope."

Now, the Mayor has vowed to go to court again to nullify the State Legislature's repeal of the city's commuter tax for New York State residents. Several legal scholars have predicted that the courts will reject his argument.

Giuliani has, of course, scored major triumphs. The United States Supreme Court upheld his zoning limits on X-rated businesses. It also struck down the President's power to veto single budget items, thus restoring $2.6 billion in Medicaid money to the city.

And on Wednesday, a state judge upheld the Mayor's new policy of seizing the cars of people arrested on drunken driving charges.

Still, the Mayor, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has had far more defeats than victories, the latest in the state's highest tribunal, the Court of Appeals. In March, the court ruled that his effort to sell Coney Island Hospital was illegal, and in April it ruled that he had broken the law in ousting state auditors from city agencies. Both decisions against his administration were unanimous, as were lower court rulings.

"He's the biggest loser in the history of the mayoralty," said Dr. Richard C. Wade, a City University historian of city legal affairs.

"He even tried to keep people off the City Hall steps. Now, no other mayor would ever have gone to court about that."

The Mayor's aides defend his record, noting that he takes on difficult causes, like revamping welfare and merging police agencies, and that he has settled decades-long cases over managing the jails and homeless shelters. They say that what critics really oppose is not his legal tactics but his policies.

"When you try to change things in New York, it's not surprising that you get sued, because the city has always tried to govern by consensus, and what Mayor Giuliani has tried to do is shake things up," said Paul A. Crotty, who served for four years as his Corporation Counsel, the city's chief lawyer.

An editor at City Journal, a magazine that is published by the generally conservative Manhattan Institute and is generally supportive of the Mayor, said that Giuliani generates litigation because "he's willing to challenge the status quo" and "move outside liberal establishment parameters." Innovators are often overruled by the courts, said the editor, William J. Stern. "F.D.R. is an excellent analogy."

Once a rarely used tactic in City Hall politics, filing lawsuits is now a standard approach.

In the last year, the Mayor has fought in court with the State Comptroller, the Public Advocate, the Independent Budget Office and the City Council. A budget impasse two years ago ended up in court, and the Council was on the brink of suing the Mayor to break last year's deadlock.

A Reluctance to Give In

The Mayor "revels in that reputation" for battling in court, said the Council's chief lawyer, Richard Weinberg. Other litigation is pending between the Mayor and the Council. After spending $500,000 on private lawyers last year, the Council plans to hire three lawyers for $226,000 to handle the caseload.

At Giuliani's command is a widely respected army of 685 lawyers, rivaling in size the nation's largest private law firms. While he has pared many other agencies, the Law Department has expanded. Its staff has grown 17 percent since he took office in 1994, according to the Independent Budget Office, and is budgeted for $85 million in 1999, a 41 percent rise over its $60 million allotment in 1994.

Giuliani not only files lawsuits, but critics say he also provokes suits against his administration by refusing to reach compromises, or by withholding information that previous mayors made available as a matter of course.

For instance, under Giuliani, advocacy groups have had to sue for parade permits. The Citizens Budget Commission, a 66-year-old watchdog group, has sued for records it used to get freely. So have members of the news media. The New York Press Club's president, Gabe Pressman, who in 50 years has covered eight mayors, said, "I've never seen anything like this."

State and Federal courts have repeatedly overruled the Mayor in his feuds with other officials, First Amendment cases and disputes over public records. Eve Burton, a lawyer for The Daily News who tracks the records cases, said, "The Mayor has lost all of them." The New York Civil Liberties Union says it has tangled with the Mayor in court in 17 cases, and won all but 2, not counting the car-seizure decision, which it is appealing.

The Mayor even tried unsuccessfully to ban New York magazine's bus ads touting itself as "the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." David N. Dinkins, whom Giuliani defeated for Mayor, said: "City money was used to bring that lawsuit. It was just dead wrong."

When the Mayor fails to get his way, he often voices contempt for the courts. Ordered to permit a march against police brutality, he scoffed at "the imperial Federal court" and said judges "think they're put here by God." He has scorned rulings as "idiotic," "not honest" and "the product of the Democratic machine."

Some accuse Giuliani of trying to intimidate the judiciary. In 1997, the City Bar Association's president, Michael A. Cardozo, warned against attempts "to bully the courts." Edward I. Koch, who as Mayor created a merit selection panel for judges, broke with Giuliani when he ignored it.

Giuliani uses his reappointment powers to punish judges he does not like, Koch said, calling the practice "outrageous."

But Crotty, the Mayor's former Corporation Counsel, said, "I don't think judges are or should be exempt from criticism." The current counsel, Michael D. Hess, said, "The Mayor gets upset when judges attempt to assume powers of the executive."

Being litigious bears a price tag. No one keeps a tab on Giuliani's cases, but experts estimate the cost at millions of dollars -- including footing the bills of some lawyers who beat the city. Lawyers for the street artists, for example, collected $448,000 after a judge upheld the artists' right to sell their work on the sidewalks.

"It's easy for the Mayor to sue -- it doesn't cost him a penny," said Gene Russianoff, a lawyer for the New York Public Interest Research Group, a watchdog group. Councilman Walter McCaffrey, a Queens Democrat, said the Mayor uses city lawyers like "his own Legal Aid Society."

Giuliani has altered the Corporation Counsel's traditional semiautonomy, critics say. In the past, the counsel advised top city officials and helped settle disputes. Now, critics say, Giuliani acts as his own counsel and uses that office against other officials. Both Hess and Crotty say the role of the Corporation Counsel has not changed.

Keeping a Foot in the Courtroom

Giuliani often says, "I was a practicing lawyer for a lot longer than I was Mayor." In deciding the car-seizure policy, he said, "I spent two hours reading law books and statutes myself -- my real profession is being a lawyer."

The Corporation Counsel under Dinkins, Victor A. Kovner, said of Giuliani: "Unlike his predecessors, this is a man who still thinks he is a practicing lawyer. But it's the courts who decide what the law is, not the Mayor."

The critics say that Giuliani often forces litigation even when he has little chance of winning.

"They use the courts with enormous frequency, not so much to test legal issues, but as a weapon," said Eric Lane, the director of the 1989 City Charter commission and a law professor at Hofstra.

Public Advocate Mark Green, who had to sue to get police brutality records, said: "The City's poor win-loss record results from a client who insists on bringing losing cases because he wants to exhaust, stall or intimidate critics. Even when he loses legally, he may have so delayed the march or investigation that he wins tactically."

For example, the Mayor evicted State Comptroller H. Carl McCall's auditors from city agencies in 1997. McCall sued. While Giuliani lost every round, he kept the auditors at bay by invoking status quo rights while appealing. McCall's spokeswoman, Joan Lebow, said, "By the Mayor's tying this up in court for two years, the Comptroller was unable to do the job he is legally mandated to do."

When the Coalition to Stop Police Brutality organized 55 protests around the nation for Oct. 22, obstacles arose in two places: a small California town with a hostile sheriff and New York City. Although the group asked for a permit six weeks in advance, the city delayed to the end, forcing a suit. The group won, but the city filed an appeal that was settled just hours before the march.

"They strung us out to the last minute," said one leader, Carl Dix. That tactic diverted organizers and reduced the turnout, he said. Judge John S. Martin Jr. of Federal District Court ruled that the "unconscionable" delay "seriously prejudiced the plaintiffs in their ability to organize their demonstration."

The Mayor has bragged about such ploys. Taxi drivers charged in a suit that he illegally blocked their motorcade protest last year. At the time he said: "They know that we broke their strike -- destroyed it really. Nobody showed up today. That happened because we had a plan to stop them from doing it."

But playing favorites has caused Giuliani to lose cases. An attempt to bar an AIDS protest in front of City Hall was overturned because he had welcomed other groups, like the Young Republicans and Yankee fans.

Increasingly, groups that oppose the Mayor's policies have been forced to seek relief in the courts.

"The courts have really become the refuge of last resort," said Dr. Ester Fuchs, a Columbia University professor and a frequent critic of the Mayor.

"But it's very costly to sue. That's part of the tactic. You control the debate by wearing down the opposition. He's really using dirty tactics. You overwhelm with power, not the rightness of your position."

Critics see an inherent paradox between Giuliani's tactics and the image he projects. "The irony is this is a Mayor who talks a lot about the rule of law -- but the law also applies to the Mayor," said Richard Briffault, a law professor at Columbia.

Charles King, the director of Housing Works, an AIDS group that won cases for a street march and City Hall protest, said, "There's a sense that he's above the law, and he's not going to follow it unless you get a court order."

 



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see also:

Court Rules: City officials acted with "retaliatory intent'' against Housing Works
(11-13-1999)

CITY AIDS AGENCY WITHOUT PHONES ! (1-31-2000)