Robert Morgenthau is Back, and He’s Mike Bloomberg’s Problem


Two New Yorkers who don’t necessarily view Mike Bloomberg as the greatest mayor of our time have now teamed up, and the result could be one big bad third term headache for the city’s richest man.

One of the Bloomy dissidents is Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis, a normally mild-mannered jurist who yesterday blew a gasket at Team Bloomberg over its dawdling, we’ll-get-to-it-when-we-can response to his devastating January ruling that the city knowingly discriminated in hiring practices for its fire department, the least diverse of any big American city.

“For whatever reason — inertia, resource-allocation or calculated strategy — the city has been dragging its feet throughout the remedial phase,” wrote Garaufis in a blistering ruling.

“The city does not appear to understand that it already lost this case, and that its obligation now is not to fight tooth and nail against the possibility of change, but to move with alacrity to cure its illegal practices.”

The other dissenter from popular Bloomberg wisdom is the man Garaufis named to ride herd on the city to make sure it starts getting its act together. Robert Morgenthau had to be wearing a pleased-as-punch grin when the judge made public that Morgy will serve as the new “special master” for the case, charged with prodding the pokey law department into action.

Morgenthau clashed with Bloomberg publicly twice in recent years, once in his final months in office as Manhattan D.A. when Bloomberg’s aides accused him of keeping two sets of books. The other came over the D.A.’s own devastating investigation of the fatal Deutsche Bank fire that killed two firefighters. Morgy said then that it was only a quirk in the law that prohibited him from bringing criminal charges against the city itself for its bungled response to fire threats at the ground zero building.

Privately, as Morgenthau told the Voice on his way out the D.A.’s door in December, he and the mayor also sparred over Morgenthau’s efforts to bring down wealthy tax cheats. “I pay my taxes,” Bloomberg snapped when the 90-year-old legend proposed efforts to try and clamp down on evaders.

The Law Journal‘s Mark Fass reports that Garaufis and Morgenthau were spotted walking out of the Cadman Plaza courthouse together last week. But the decision to name the 90-year-old legend was a surprise even to the plaintiffs, the Vulcan Society, the black firefighters who brought the case in 2007.

As a special master, notes Fass, Morgenthau gets a power-pack belt of weaponry to get the administration’s attention. Garaufis’s order authorizes Morgy to make “such orders as necessary to ensure the City’s compliance.” He’s also got a green light for “investigating any matters” and “enforcing any orders” issued in the case.

Morgenthau says he’s looking forward to “working with the parties to facilitate their carrying out the relief ordered by the court.” Odds are he won’t find the job too taxing.