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Second Circuit Says Administrative Hearings Open to Public

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

New Yorkers are free to observe Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) hearings. That's the word from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) in a suit against the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) on Wednesday.

As NYCTA riders know, any NYC police officer can issue a citation to a rider for violating the NYCTA Rules of Conduct. Police officers have discretion in choosing to issue a summons to New York Criminal Court or a notice of violation for TAB. Court hearings, by statute, are open to the public, but TAB hearings policy permitted an alleged rule-breaker to object to observers attending his hearing.

Under a long-standing NYCTA policy, a person who wished to observe a TAB hearing had to obtain the consent of the respondent in the case twice: first before entering the hearing room, and again in the hearing room before the hearing started. If the respondent objected either time, the observer was excluded from the hearing. NYCLU sued the NYCTA, claiming that this policy denied the First Amendment right of access to government proceedings.

NYCTA claimed that the public has no right of access to administrative adjudicatory proceedings and that, even if such a right existed, it should not apply to TAB hearings. The court disagreed, finding that public’s right of access to an adjudicatory proceeding does not depend on which branch of government houses the proceeding, the First Amendment guarantees the public a qualified right of access to administrative adjudicatory forums, and the NYCTA failed to provide grounds limiting that right.

According to the NYCLU, NYPD issues up to 171,000 citations annually for NYCTA rules violations. Between 2003 and 2007, the number of subway riders stopped and questioned by NYPD officers spiked from 2,474 to 38,552 - a 1,558 percent increase. Statistics show that 88 percent of those subjected to police stops in the subway system are black or Latino. Transparency in the adjudicatory process is imperative, and this ruling provides a necessary check on unfettered administrative power.

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