The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, District Judge.
Plaintiffs in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
allege that the New York County District Attorney controls the
assignment of judges to try "high-profile" criminal cases in New
York County and that that practice violates plaintiffs' right to
due process of law, since, they allege, the D.A. selects jurists
who "strongly" favor the prosecution. As set forth below,
defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted on
the grounds that the claim of Coastal Oil New York, Inc. is moot
and the remaining plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action.
Plaintiffs are Coastal Oil New York, Inc., two associations of
criminal defense attorneys — the New York Criminal Bar
Association and the New York State Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers — and eight individuals who are members of the
those bar associations. They name as defendants Justice Juanita
Bing Newton, who as Administrative Judge for the criminal branch
of New York State courts in New York County administers the
system of selecting judges to hear criminal matters, as well as
two of her administrative superiors — Justice Jonathan Lippman,
who is Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York, and
Justice Joan Carey, who is Justice Lippman's deputy for courts in
New York City.
The alleged scheme is simplicity itself: the D.A. purportedly
seeks out "strongly proprosecution" judges to issue ex parte
orders such as search warrants or wire tap authorizations.
(Amended Complaint at ¶ 18). After having thus initially involved
a judge in a particular criminal matter, the D.A.'s office then
allegedly requests Justice Newton to appoint that same judge to
convene and preside over a special grand jury,*fn1 (Id. at ¶¶
18, 19), a recommendation which has "almost always [been]
accepted" by the Administrative Judge. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20).
Finally, the judge who has been selected to preside over that
grand jury is frequently assigned to preside over the subsequent
proceedings, including arraignments, pre-trial proceedings,
trial, and sentencings. (Id. at ¶ 20). Thus, plaintiffs allege,
the D.A. has effectively chosen the judge who presides over the
entire criminal proceeding.
Plaintiffs do not dispute that the ultimate determination as to
which judge is assigned to preside over special grand juries and
any resulting indictments and trials rests exclusively with the
Chief Administrative Judge. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20, 24, 28). Their
complaint rather is that in practice the D.A. — a party to the
criminal proceedings — selects the presiding judge who, in the
eyes of plaintiffs, is in "a disproportionate number of
high-profile cases" a judge who is "strongly prosecution-minded."
(Id. at ¶ 21).
The particular incident giving rise to Coastal's grievance is
as follows: Sometime in 1995, a prosecutor from the D.A.'s office
telephoned Justice Edward J. McLaughlin and asked whether he
would be available to preside over a grand jury. (Id. at ¶¶ 31,
32). Justice McLaughlin responded to this inquiry by stating:
"I'll do anything I'm asked to do, but get Judge Newton's
clearance." (Id. at ¶ 31). Sometime after this conversation,
Justice Newton informed Justice McLaughlin that he had been
designated to preside over a special grand jury which, as he
later discovered, was the grand jury investigating Coastal.
After that special grand jury handed up an indictment, Coastal
made an administrative request to have the case transferred from
Justice McLaughlin (Id. at ¶ 34); that request was later denied
by Justice Newton on the grounds that the selection of Justice
McLaughlin had been made in accordance with proper procedure.
annexed to Newton Aff. as Exh. B).*fn2 In addition, Justice
Newton informed Coastal that the question of whether the judge
assigned to supervise a special grand jury should preside over
any indictments filed by that grand jury is "a policy decision
that has historically been answered in the affirmative" and that
this policy would not be disturbed "absent compelling reasons."
(Amended Complaint at ¶ 34).
Coastal then instituted an Article 78 proceeding in the
Appellate Division seeking to enjoin Justice Newton from
assigning the indictment of Coastal to Justice McLaughlin, to
enjoin Justice McLaughlin from presiding over the indictment, and
to compel Justice Newton to assign the arraignment of Coastal to
the judge sitting in the grand jury part for that term and,
thereafter, to randomly assign another judge to preside over that
The Appellate Division subsequently dismissed the Article 78
petition on the grounds that Coastal's claims were "purely
speculative" as it had not asserted that "any ruling made thus
far by the presiding judge has been affected by bias." Coastal
Oil New York, Inc. v. Newton, 231 A.D.2d 55, 57-58, 660 N.Y.S.2d 428,
429 (1st Dept. 1997). Coastal then unsuccessfully moved to
recuse Justice McLaughlin from presiding over its case. (Newton
Aff., Exh. H). The New York Court of Appeals subsequently (1)
dismissed the appeal Coastal took on constitutional grounds from
the dismissal of its Article 78 petition, 91 N.Y.2d 848,
690 N.E.2d 492, 667 N.Y.S.2d 683 (1997), and (2) denied Coastal's
motion for leave to appeal, 91 N.Y.2d 808, 692 N.E.2d 130,
669 N.Y.S.2d 261 (1998).
Having pursued its contentions through the state court system,
Coastal instituted this federal action in June of 1998 and
defendants subsequently made this motion for judgment on the
pleadings. Shortly thereafter, Justice McLaughlin granted a
renewed motion by Coastal to recuse himself from trying the
criminal action. (Order and Decision dated October 5, 1998,
annexed to Newton Supp. Aff. as Exh. A). Another judge was
assigned to the trial "in a manner that is not at issue here."
(Opp. at 36).
Although a new judge has been assigned to preside over
Coastal's case, plaintiffs allege that the offending practice by
the District Attorney's Office is continuing and they seek a
judgment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 declaring that it violates
the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoining
its continuation. (Amended Complaint ¶ 4, prayer for relief).
Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on the grounds that (1) the action is moot,
(2) the bar associations and individual plaintiffs lack standing,
(3) the action is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, (4)
the action is precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel,
and (5) this Court should abstain from hearing the action
pursuant to ...