Nicholas Scoppetta, who passed away in March at age 83, represented the best in the City’s civic life. He often attended New York Law School events and was the featured speaker at a CityLaw Breakfast on September 12, 1997. At that time he headed the Administration for Children’s Services, and was deep in litigation with advocates for children who wanted the federal court to take over his agency. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani had appointed Scoppetta in January 1996 following the November 1995 death of six-year-old Elisa Izquierdo. Elisa had been beaten to death by her mother, but the City was faulted because the City’s Child Welfare Administration possessed evidence that Elisa was endangered, and had failed to place the little girl into protective custody. In the public furor Mayor Giuliani assumed personal responsibility for children’s services, ordered the agency to report directly to him and appointed Nicholas Scoppetta to head the new agency.
Nicholas Scoppetta refused to allow the federal court to dictate policy and successfully negotiated a 1998 consent decree that left Scoppetta and the City in charge of child protective programs. Scoppetta led many improvements in services, ultimately satisfying the federal court which terminated the consent decree. Scoppetta’s refusal to give up control of the agency, along with achievements in improving child protective services constituted a rare bright spot in judicial interventions in the areas of child protective services.
Scoppetta brought unique qualifications to the job. He had been a foster child himself from age five to 12 and later worked his way through law school as a caseworker for the Children’s Aid Society. In 1972 Scoppetta, as a lawyer, played a starring role as a federal prosecutor in the drama that later became the book and movie Prince of the City. He served with distinction as the Commissioner of Investigation under both Mayors John V. Lindsay and Abraham D. Beame. Later, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Scoppetta Fire Commissioner.
For more than 40 years Nicholas Scoppetta contributed mightily to the civic life of New York City. He was never elected to office, but those who were elected instinctively turned to him, trusted him, and relied on him. He was an open and available colleague to his many friends and co-workers. I and New York Law School will deeply miss our friend Nicholas Scoppetta.