Court affirms DOI’s subpoena power

Preservationist allegedly altered contents of letter from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. In 2006, Landmarks held a hearing to consider the designation of the Dakota Stables, a building on the Upper West Side. Shortly before the hearing, the owner of the Dakota Stables pulled permits and began stripping the facade of the building. 3 CityLand 157 (Nov. 15, 2006). At the hearing, Virginia Parkhouse, a Landmarks West! volunteer, read a letter from Borough President Scott Stringer into the record, allegedly changing its contents. Parkhouse stated that Stringer wanted Landmarks to designate the Dakota Stables when in reality the letter merely asked Landmarks to hold a public hearing on the issue of designation. Lindsay Miller, another Landmark West! representative, signed in as representing Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, and allegedly changed the text of her letter to read that Rosenthal advocated for designation instead of only requesting a public hearing.

After the hearing, Stringer and Rosenthal complained to Landmarks, and Landmarks referred the matter to the Department of Investigation. DOI investigated, ultimately asking Miller and Parkhouse for interviews. Parkhouse refused to comply, and DOI followed with a subpoena, which she challenged, claiming it interfered with her right to free speech and that DOI was not authorized to subpoena private citizens. A lower court disagreed and upheld the subpoena.

On appeal, the First Department affirmed DOI’s authority to subpoena private citizens. The court found that DOI was investigating Landmarks’ public hearing procedures, not targeting Parkhouse. The court rejected the constitutional argument, ruling that DOI’s investigation did not amount to the chilling of free speech because it was not aimed at the content of her speech. Even if the investigation was aimed at the content of Parkhouse’s testimony in front of Landmarks, it would be permissible because DOI was charged with ensuring that the practices of City agencies were legitimate and did not lead to abuse.

Parkhouse v. Stringer, 2008 NY Slip Op. 06625, (1st Dep’t Aug. 19, 2008) (Attorneys: Whitney North Seymour, Jr., Gabriel North Seymour, for Parkhouse; Michael A. Cardozo, Alan G. Krams, Leonard Koerner, for Stringer).

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