Kudos to New York Attorney General Letitia James for her efforts in securing settlements in a housing discrimination lawsuit brought by the chasidic developers of The Greens At Chester – a project that had been expected to draw mostly Jewish New Yorkers – against Orange County and the Town of Chester in upstate New York.
The plaintiffs had alleged they were subjected to discriminatory housing practices committed by the defendants, including the imposition of unnecessary, irrelevant and unduly onerous requirements designed to prevent members of the Orthodox Jewish community from moving to Chester.
The settlements, contained in a Consent Decree issued by federal Judge Philip Halpern sitting in lower Manhattan who presided over the lawsuit, mandate that the county and town comply with the federal Fair Housing Act and take preventative measures to ensure equitable housing practices. The county and town admitted to no wrongdoing and the developers agreed to accept some restrictions including housing size and distancing.
In May 2020, Attorney General James formally intervened in the case as a full party plaintiff, placing the enormous power of her office behind the always-uphill battle of private citizens trying “to fight city hall.”
As an indication of the importance of this form of intervention, the town strenuously fought to keep the attorney general out of the case in arguments to the judge. They claimed that James was simply attempting to “hijack” the town on behalf of one private developer. James replied, however, that she wanted to intervene to protect the state’s “quasi-sovereign interests” and that the attorney general has a strong interest in protecting residents from unlawful discrimination. In the end, the judge let the AG in and the rest is history.
Town officials maintained that they only agreed to follow the law, which they said they were required to do anyway. Nevertheless, since the agreements came in the form of a Consent Decree signed by a federal judge, violations would subject violators to Contempt Citations and not merely subject to a new lawsuit. In a word the protections against discrimination were given “teeth.”
The bottom line is that the construction on The Greens should now be able to proceed without any unwarranted official interference. The salutary effect of the New York attorney general’s involvement cannot be overestimated. And this is to say nothing of the kinds of resources her office of approximately 300 lawyers can be expected bring to the table in the future.
We take nothing away from The Green’s attorneys when we tip our hat to General Letitia James.