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May 30, 2006

DDDB Press Release: Appellate Division Overturns ESDC Conflict of Interest Case and Leaves Public Scratching Its Head

Ruling Only Strengthens Looming Eminent Domain Legal Challenge to Ratner's Foundering "Atlantic Yards" Proposal

MANHATTAN, NY - "We are obviously very disappointed with the Court's decision and its apparent position that the people of Brooklyn do not have standing to raise a conflict of interest involving the attorney retained by the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), supposedly representing the public's interest in its review of the proposed development of Atlantic Yards, and Forest City Ratner (FCR), the developer proposing the project. This is just a legal decision as to whether there is a legal conflict in the ESDC’s use of the same attorney who represented FCR on the identical project. The real conflict, the one the public sees, is still glaring–the ESDC sees itself as a collaborator with Bruce Ratner, not as a protector of the public interest," said Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) spokesman Daniel Goldstein. "This decision only strengthens our resolve to pursue our very strong challenge to the illegal use of eminent domain as soon as the unaccountable ESDC invokes it, as well as to legally challenge the already flawed environmental review process overseen by the ESDC, as we were invited to by the appellate court."

The Appellate Division of New York State's Supreme Court today issued a ruling overturning the lower court's decision to disqualify attorney David Paget for a gross conflict of interest: Mr. Paget represented Forest City Ratner on its "Atlantic Yards" development proposal and then was hired, at the developer's behest, by the EESDC, the unelected state agency charged with reviewing the developer's proposal and overriding all local zoning laws. The case's plaintiffs included Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn (DDDB) and a dozen other community groups, as well as amicus briefs by the Sierra Club and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) filed in support of the plaintiffs’ position

"It is disappointing that the Appellate Division did not find any ethical impropriety in Ratner’s lawyer also representing the government agency, the ESDC. Although the Court reversed the finding of the trial court, finding that there was no violation of any ethical prohibition, the ESDC can still choose to act as guardian of the public’s, and not the developer’s, interest by refusing to return to business as usual, and keep the attorney that it hired pending the outcome of this appeal, rather than reinstating their troubling relationship with Mr. Paget, FCR’s attorney. If Mr. Paget is reinstated as ESDC’s counsel, the reality of the conflict that we challenged as actually affecting the public decision making process will continue to exist. It is this lack of transparency, integrity, and meaningful public participation which is the drumbeat that continues to pound in the public's head and urges them to take a stand against the political cronyism that embodies this project," said DDDB legal chair Candace Carponter.

"We believe in the moral correctness of our case, and are confident that this decision will inspire the public's vigilance and scrutiny to grow even stronger. It will be telling to watch whether ESDC decides to act contrary to the expressed concerns of the local community in this regard."

Carpentor concluded, "The Court did note the importance of the public participation process under the state's environmental review statute known as SEQR, so all interested people must now join us to challenge this destructive development review process which continues to nakedly shut out the public. This is just a single step it what will continue to be a long battle."

Posted by lumi at May 30, 2006 9:14 PM