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August 11, 2010

Surreal morning in court: finally, belatedly, a wholesale assault on the Atlantic Yards project, but before a detached judge

Atlantic Yards Report

Here's Norman Oder's must-read coverage of yesterday's Atlantic Yards hearing in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

It was, actually, a little surreal.

Yesterday in Kings County Supreme Court emerged the most complete—and, to the Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), completely off-base—assault on the Atlantic Yards project ever heard in any courtroom, but it occurred before a handful of spectators and a single, not-so-engaged judge, well after most people, officials, and editors had relegated Atlantic Yards to the status of old news.

The case involves only three plaintiffs (two of whom are corporate entities owned by longtime footprint property owner Henry Weinstein), none of whom were in the courtroom. However, in challenging the ESDC to issue a new Determination & Findings because the justifications for eminent domain had changed markedly since 2006, it was essentially a challenge to the project itself. Supreme Court Justice Abraham Gerges faced dueling motions to both dismiss the case and expand the record.

With charges that the project timetable is “a complete fantasy” and the project is “a betrayal of the public trust” and “an embarrassment to democracy,” it was, perhaps, the argument that attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff should’ve made last October before the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, in a stately setting before engaged judges and a packed house. But, rather than get to the fundamentals of the sweetheart deal, that oral argument ran aground on debates about the contours of the state’s public use clause and whether the case should have gone to the high court in the first place.

Also, as Brinckerhoff stressed yesterday in court, some of the key elements of the ESDC’s behavior came to light only after the Court of Appeals’s decision in November, as well as the previous, seemingly dispositive appellate ruling: “They timed their disclosures in order to avoid judicial review.”

ESDC attorney Philip Karmel, unbowed, responded forcefully and sometimes dismissively to Brinckerhoff’s kitchen-sink arguments, some of which were not exactly on point. Curiously enough, however, Karmel never explained why the crucial Development Agreement, released in January weeks after it was publicly promised, was withheld for so long.

Starting off

Brinckerhoff began by thanking Gerges for giving him the time to argue and “for taking this matter seriously,” a statement that seemed a bit aspirational, aiming to goad Gerges into doing exactly that.

Brinckerhoff said he was acting for his clients, for all those affected by the project, and “frankly, for the public at large,” who’ve suffered “a really profound betrayal of the public trust by the respondent Urban Development Corporation [aka ESDC] in league with the developer.”

“Let me be clear about what I’m attempting to do,” declared Brinckerhoff, whose pepper-and-salt beard and sometimes unruly curls give him somewhat more of a professorial than corporate air, though his boutique law firm does quite well. “There’s a whole set of facts found in the document,” and none of such new information was disclosed until after the petition in this case was filed in January. Such facts, “put the nail in the coffin on what’s been going on for years.”

And that, he said, is why his clients should be granted, at a minimum, leave to amend the record to add such facts “deliberately concealed from us."


Related coverage...

Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn, In Court Argument Atlantic Yards Called An Embarrassment Of Democracy

DDDB attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff took roughly on hour in court yesterday to lay out the "highlights" of the whole sordid Atlantic Yards partnership between Ratner and the ESDC. As Brinckerhoff said, if he was to cover all of the history, which he called an "embarrassment of democracy," it would have taken days.

Posted by eric at August 11, 2010 9:58 AM