10:17 am Nov. 15, 2011
According to a campaign flier for her first judicial race back in 1997, Lucy Billings had "spent her life fighting for equal justice for people who cannot afford a lawyer: tenants, minorities, seniors, children, working men and women, families torn apart, the homeless, the disabled, and the dying."
Justice Billings now finds herself as the first judge to involve herself in the Bloomberg administration's overnight clearing of Zuccotti Park. This morning, she issued a restraining order that would allow the protesters to return to the park today, tents and all.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg responded this morning that he had yet to see the restraining order, which was requested in a petition by the National Lawyers Guild, and said that he would wait to re-open the park until he could review it.
It would seem that the Occupiers have a natural friend in Billings.
She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College in 1970, and from the University of California at Berkeley's Boalt Hall in 1973. She practiced law for 25 years, including stints at the national headquarters of the American Civil Liberties Union and as the director of Legal Services.
Billings has taken on the city before. In her first race, she trumpeted her work in the class action suit N.Y.C. Coalition to End Lead Poisoning v. Giuliani, which eventually forced the city to clean up the lead paint it was sand-blasting off bridges. Later, as a judge, she issued the opinion that stymied Rudy Giuliani's crackdown on street artists outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which drew the predictable ire from the New York Post.
"Thanks to Mayor Giuliani's quality-of-life program, New Yorkers no longer have to step over quite so many vagrants in order to enjoy the greenery of New York's parks or the aesthetic stimulation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art," the paper wrote in a 1998 editorial. "Unfortunately, thanks to Manhattan Criminal Court Judge Lucy Billings, they might now find themselves navigating their way around hordes of self-described 'artists' who think it's appropriate to liken politicians they oppose to Hitler."
And she has been a frequent critic of the police. According to her bio as vice-chair of the Judicial Section of the New York County Lawyers' Association: "In 2002, Judge Billings moderated the Civil Rights Committee's forum on 'Terrorism and the Constitution.' In 2003, the committee won the Klaus Eppler Prize for the committee's Report on the Electronic Recording of Police Interrogations."
Later, Billings denied a request to summarily dismiss a discrimination claim against Bernard Spitzer, which eventually resulted in a Bronx jury awarding more than $1.3 million to four black employees of his real estate company.
Her 1997 campaign cited endorsements from Councilmembers Tom Duane, Ronnie Eldridge, and Miriam Friedlander, along with Citizens Union, the Village Independent Democrats, and Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.
"What kind of judge do you want?" asked her 1997 flier, which answered:
"A judge who knows the law and understands what people are going through. A judge whom you respect and who cares about you—whether you are a tenant about to be evicted, a senior with no money, or a worker who has lost a job because of discrimination. A judge like Lucy Billings."
UPDATE: The Daily News reports that attorneys affiliated with the Occupiers sought out Billings. But she will not be the judge who rules on the merits of the case; a hearing at 12:30 this afternoon will be in front of Justice Michael Stallman, according to David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the courts. Stallman has a resume that, for the most part, lacks Billings' activist credentials. But, for what it's worth, Stallman was a legislative assistant to the late Ted Weiss in the early 1970s. Weiss, a devout liberal, was a city councilman at the time, and he later went on to serve in Congress, until his death in 1992.