The Fourth Judicial Department of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division unanimously ruled Oct. 17 that votes cast Nov. 5 will be counted in a referendum on creating a police accountability board in the City of Rochester
The ruling ended efforts by the Rochester Police Locust Club to block the referendum through a September lawsuit against the City of Rochester, Mayor Lovely Warren, Rochester City Council and the Monroe County Board of Elections. The same month, Monroe County Court Judge John Ark placed a temporary hold on the referendum, meaning voters could not vote on it until the lawsuit was resolved.
However, since ballots that included the referendum already had been printed — and in some cases distributed — prior to Ark’s ruling, it appeared until this week that election officials would have been barred from counting referendum votes cast on Nov. 5. The Appellate Division ruling settles this situation.
If approved, the referendum, also known as Local Law No. 2, would establish an independent police accountability board to investigate cases of alleged police misconduct.
During the Fourth Judicial Department’s Oct. 17 proceedings, the judges found that the Police Locust Club had “failed to establish that they would suffer irreparable injury if the referendum were permitted to proceed.” In so ruling, the judges lifted the hold Ark had placed on the referendum.
The judges also noted that if the referendum passes, its merits could then be reviewed in a lower court.
“We note that the substantive merits of the Local Law are not before us,” the judges said, “and that our determination does not bar a subsequent action in the event that the referendum is approved by the voters.”
In an Oct. 18 press release, the advocacy group Police Accountability Alliance Board praised the judges’ decision.
“Thursday’s victory is a win for democracy,” the alliance said. “For the affected individuals and their families who have experienced unchecked police brutality and impunity, the passage of the referendum represents one more step towards justice. It also highlights the notion that when communities come together with a concrete vision for a more just world, as demonstrated by the over 50 community organizations that make up the Police Accountability Board Alliance, change is not only possible, it is inevitable.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the police accountability board referendum, visit https://bit.ly/35O5Co0.