Monday, December 19, 2016

A Consent Decree on the NYPD's Surveillance Activities Seeks Its Historian

[We have the following message from Rick Abel, the Connell Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, UCLA.]

 Dear Colleagues:

I am writing at the suggestion of Bob Gordon to tell you about an opportunity to research the history of what may be the oldest continuous (and still extant) consent decree against a police department. In May 1971 Jethro Eisenstein, Martin Stolar and Paul Chevigny, representing Barbara Handschu (the named plaintiff) and others, challenged the NYPD’s practices of surveilling, infiltrating and investigating groups protesting the Vietnam War by engaging in constitutionally protected activities. They obtained a consent decree in the SDNY, which is still being monitored by the court (currently by Judge Charles S. Haight Jr.). Because it has spanned many changes in the intensity and nature of political activity, 15 NYPD Commissioners, and seven NYC Mayors (from John Lindsay on), it offers a unique window into a wide range of fascinating questions. (After 9/11, for instance, the lawyers have repeatedly clashed with the NYPD and the city over surveillance of Muslims.)

Some of you may know Paul Chevigny at NYU Law School, who has written extensively about police. I became friends with Jethro more than a decade ago (through singing in a chorus with him in NY) and have discussed this amazing case with him over the years. He would welcome a historian (at any level of seniority, including a graduate student looking for a thesis topic) who wants to explore the possibility of writing about the Handschu consent decree (which you can Google, for more information). Barbara Handschu remains an engaged activist; all the original lawyers, and others who subsequently joined the team, may be willing to speak to you.

Anyone interested should contact Jethro Eisenstein of Profeta & Eisenstein in NYC. His e-mail is:

Rick Abel, Connell Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus, UCLA