In an unusual move, a federal judge has fined the city $10,000 for failing to turn over documents in a lawsuit filed by a man who was badly beaten while being held in a Rikers Island jail.
Ruling in the Kadeem John case, U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson sanctioned the city last week for repeatedly failing to comply with discovery requests. Patterson also fined city lawyers Diep Nguyen and Dara Weiss $300 a piece.
“Despite numerous orders from the court, (the city) failed to confirm that they have produced all documents responsive” to the requests, Patterson ruled. “The time has long passed for defendants to be conducting searches for relevant documents which should have been turned over to plaintiffs months ago.”
John filed the lawsuit last year after he suffered serious brain and kidney injuries in a beating by another inmate in June, 2010, alleging the Correction Department failed to protect him. He claims that correction officers allowed certain inmates to beat up other inmates to keep control in the Robert N. Davoren Center, a jail on Rikers which houses teens and adults and has been the subject of repeated controversy over the past five years.
In a key hearing in the dispute on June 7, lawyers for John said despite repeated requests they still had not received a single page from the files of the Gang Intelligence Unit, and, according to the judge, “they had independently obtained some of the documents from the media.” In addition, many of the documents they did receive were heavily redacted, even though there is a standing order that all documents turned over in discovery will remain confidential.
Patterson ordered the city’s lawyers to remove the redactions from the documents and turn over the gang intelligence files, and they agreed to comply. But, the dispute continued through June, until Patterson finally lost patience and issued the sanctions. If the city still hasn’t fully complied after July 20, it faces further sanctions of $1,000 a day.
“We take our discovery obligations very seriously, and as we advised the court, we made good faith efforts to comply with the orders in this case,” the city Law Department said.