New York City Law Department
|Jurisdiction||New York City|
The New York City Law Department, also known as the Office of the Corporation Counsel, is the department of the government of New York City responsible for most of the city's legal affairs. The department is headed by the Corporation Counsel, currently James E. Johnson, the 79th official to hold this position.
The Law Department represents the mayor and city officials in all civil litigation, in juvenile delinquency proceedings in Family Court, and in prosecutions in the New York City Criminal Court under the New York City Administrative Code. Among the department's other duties are drafting contracts, leases, municipal bond issues, and other legal documents for the city; reviewing local and state legislation; and providing legal advice to city officials on a wide variety of issues.
The New York City Charter, the New York City Administrative Code, and the Rules of the City of New York are published online by New York Legal Publishing Corporation under contract with the Law Department. The department's regulations are compiled in title 46 of the Rules.
The origins of the Law Department lie in the English office of the Recorder. After the City fell under British control following the Third Anglo-Dutch War, New York's Royal Governor Thomas Dongan created the Office of Recorder of New York City in 1683 to serve as legal and political counsel to the City Government.
After the American Revolution, New York City continued to grow, and during the 19th century, the City Council began hiring private attorneys to do the internal legal work of the City. When this arrangement proved unsatisfactory, due to the chaos of shifting the city's caseload between various outside counsels, the City Charter was amended in 1849 to create the Office of the Corporation Counsel (so named because New York City is a municipal corporation). The revision established an independently elected chief executive officer known as the Corporation Counsel, and a staff of five, to be known as the Law Department. Later, the Corporation Counsel began being appointed by the Mayor of New York City, as is still the case today.
Among the better-known cases that the department has litigated before the U.S. Supreme Court are Goldberg v. Kelly, Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, Ward v. Rock Against Racism, Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, and Permanent Mission of India v. City of New York. The department also prepares amicus curiae briefs in many major court cases.
The Law Department has 16 legal divisions and 5 support divisions. As of 2019, the department employs 1,000 lawyers and 890 support professionals in 20 offices located in all five boroughs, and an auxiliary office in Kingston, New York.
The legal divisions are:
- Administrative Law and Regulatory Litigation
- Affirmative Litigation
- Commercial and Real Estate Litigation
- Contracts and Real Estate
- Economic Development
- Environmental Law
- Family Court
- General Litigation
- Labor and Employment Law
- Legal Counsel
- Municipal Finance
- Special Federal Litigation (handles civil rights lawsuits under 42 U.S.C. 1983 brought against police, District Attorneys, or correction officers)
- Tax and Bankruptcy
- Workers' Compensation
The support divisions are:
- Electronic Discovery Group
- Information Technology
- Litigation Support and Information Management
- New York City Charter § 391 ("There shall be a law department the head of which shall be the corporation counsel."); id. § 395 ("[T]he corporation counsel shall be attorney and counsel for the city and every agency thereof and shall have charge and conduct of all the law business of the city and its agencies and in which the city is interested.").
- "Biography of the Corporation Counsel - Law Department". www1.nyc.gov. Retrieved 2019-11-20.
- "About the Law Department". New York City Law Department. Archived from the original on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
The most important laws of the City of New York are now available on the web. The Law Department contracted with New York Legal Publishing Corp. for a site where you can browse and search the New York City Charter, the New York City Administrative Code, and the Rules of the City of New York.
- Press release for "Fighting for the City", a history book about the Office of the Corporation Counsel