Peter L. Zimroth, who for eight years as a court-appointed observer oversaw a sharp decline in the New York Police Department’s racially-motivated stop and search strategy without a significant increase in crime, is died Sunday at his Manhattan home. . He was 78 years old.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, said his wife, Broadway and movie actress Estelle Parsons.
As the city’s legal adviser, its chief legal adviser, under Mayor Edward I. Koch from 1987 to 1989, Mr. Zimroth was instrumental in creating the city’s voluntary public campaign finance system, a model that has been widely emulated by local governments.
For applicants who qualified for government matching funds, the program typically capped overall spending and reduced the legal limit for individual contributions to $ 6,000, from $ 100,000.
“I don’t know if there will be less corruption,” Zimroth told The New York Times in 1987, “but in the long run there would be less establishment entrenchment, and that is bound to be healthy. . “
A business attorney and former prosecutor, Mr. Zimroth was appointed in 2013 by Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the New York Federal District Court to oversee reforms to the Police Department’s Unlimited Crime Strategy. Justice Scheindlin had ruled that the tactic violated the constitutional rights of blacks and Hispanics as a “policy of indirect racial profiling.”
Police conduct hundreds of thousands of stops each year and have been found to disproportionately isolate black and Hispanic New Yorkers on the suspicion of wrongdoing.
While the judge refused to stop the tactics outright, she appointed Mr. Zimroth to monitor racial disparities in the number of stops as well as reforms to the department’s training and procedures, including the use body cameras for some officers on patrol. He held this position until last year.
Judge Scheindlin, who has since retired from the bench, said of Zimroth in an email: âIn addition to setting standards, he has increased the transparency that has allowed victims to arrest to understand who arrested them and the basis for the judgment and the right to challenge the action if necessary.
She added: “Her reports to the court have been extremely informative and have followed the progress made in reducing the number of arrests without a related increase in crime.”
Mr Zimroth’s role as controller crowned a career of defiance and advocacy of local officials, including in several other racist cases when he was a corporate lawyer.
As an attorney for the company, he argued in 1989 that Staten Island, where whites predominated, could not separate from the other four boroughs – where minority groups collectively made up the majority of the population – without the permission of the city ââgovernment. The judgment was ultimately upheld by the leaders of the state legislature.
He fought what he recognized to be a losing battle to preserve the Board of Estimate, a quasi-legislative body with broad powers over spending, contracts and land use. The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the board of directors violated the principle of one person, one vote because each of the boroughs was equally represented on the board of directors despite large disparities in their populations. .
He fought off challenges to a 1984 municipal law requiring the admission of women to large private clubs that play an important role in the city’s business and professional life.
“They agreed with us to admit women on the same basis as men and to treat guest women the same as guest men,” he said in 1989, when the last heist, the New York Athletic Club, surrendered.
And he filed an amicus brief whose argument was adopted by the New York State Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, in a landmark opinion that guaranteed a partner’s right to long-standing same-sex tenant of a rent-controlled apartment to be considered a member of the family and therefore remain a tenant.
“He was an excellent lawyer, an oral lawyer and a formidable colleague for whom intellectual honesty has always informed his advocacy positions,” said Richard D. Emery, a civil liberties lawyer who successfully challenged the constitutionality of the Board of Estimate, about Mr. Zimroth in an email. âHe was fair, balanced and superbly articulated for his causes. “
Peter Lenard Zimroth was born on January 11, 1943 in Brooklyn. Her father, Sol, owned a dry cleaning store and later sold insurance and mutual funds. His mother, Ruth (Sadowsky) Zimroth, was a housewife and later an accountant.
He grew up in the Bensonhurst section, where his grandfather, watching Jackie Robinson’s historic performances for the Dodgers with him on television, urged Peter to fight injustice wherever he found her. (In recent years, Mr Zimroth has successfully defended a Muslim mosque in Bridgewater, NJ, which sued the township for ruling that a proposed mosque violated local zoning restrictions.)
After graduating from Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island, Mr. Zimroth, at age 16, enrolled in Columbia College and graduated with a BA in 1963. He then attended Yale Law School, where he attended was editor of the Yale Law Journal before graduating in 1966..
He went on to work for Justice David L. Bazelon of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and then for Associate Justice Abe Fortas of the United States Supreme Court.
Mr. Zimroth was a professor in the law school of New York University; represented Detective David Durk, a whistleblower who testified before the Knapp commission investigating corruption in the NYPD in the 1970s; and was Assistant Federal Attorney in Manhattan and Chief Assistant to Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau.
Besides his wife, whom he married in 1983, he is survived by his son, Abraham; his stepdaughters Martha Gehman and Abbie Britton; his sister, Alice Kelly; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
From 1990 to 2015, Mr. Zimroth was a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter. He was one of the founding directors of the Center on Civil Justice at NYU Law School. Earlier this year, the school Criminal Law Administration Center was renamed in his honor.
âI have been a prosecutor, defense lawyer, teacher; I’ve been a trustee, âhe told The Times in 1987.â And I’m very, very committed to using the law as an instrument for social good. That’s why I became a lawyer.