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Yonkers Asks High Court to Void Contempt Fines

United Press International

The City of Yonkers and four of its councilmen Friday petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for reimbursement for fines levied against them for blocking a court-ordered housing desegregation plan.

Yonkers and the councilmen, in asking the high court to hear their appeals, argued that they should get back the $833,200 paid in contempt fines last August.

U.S. District Judge Leonard Sand levied the fines against the city and four of its councilmen after the City Council rejected his order to implement the housing desegregation plan, designed to correct decades of housing discrimination in the state’s fourth-largest city.

Two of the defiant councilmen ultimately changed their votes, allowing the plan to take effect and halting the daily fines piling up against Yonkers as it tottered on the brink of bankruptcy.

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The city asked the Supreme Court to review an appeal seeking to overturn the contempt citation, said Paul Pickelle, the city’s corporation counsel. A federal appeals court had previously rejected the city’s arguments against the fines.

Yonkers argued that the fines were not justified because the city “has no vote and should not be held responsible for the acts of the councilmen,” Pickelle said.

In a separate request, the four city councilmen who had initially voted against the housing plan--Nicholas Longo, Peter Chema, Ed Fagan and Henry Spallone--asked the Supreme Court to review their appeal of the contempt fines.

The four councilmen were each fined $3,500 in contempt charges for voting against the order.

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The councilmen argued that the fines should not have been imposed against them because constitutional law guarantees “legislators immunity from being required to vote a certain way, and from being punished if they do vote a certain way” Pickelle said.

The councilmen contend that “no judge should be able to tell legislators how to vote,” he said.

Sand ordered the city to accept the housing desegregation plan, which involved the construction of low- and moderate-income housing units in predominantly white areas, to remedy what he found to be intentional discrimination. The council reversed its vote and accepted the plan after the contempt fines neared $1 million and threatened to bankrupt the city.


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