Demonstrations in New York after the 2020 murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer led to a wave of lawsuits accusing the police of using excessive force and other abusive tactics that violated protesters’ rights.
The litigation has been fought bitterly in federal court, with lawyers for protesters claiming New York had repeatedly failed to turn over key documents and video footage, and the city’s Law Department arguing it was working diligently to keep up with demands being made in the many suits.
But now, the Law Department has told a Manhattan federal magistrate judge that it has fired a lawyer in the case after she was found to have made a misrepresentation in a court filing and additional ones in communications with the protesters’ lawyers.
In a letter to the judge on Friday, the Law Department said the lawyer, Dara L. Weiss, had told the court in a recent filing that she had sent an email to lawyers for the protesters to set a date for the parties to discuss a dispute. In fact, the department said, she had only drafted the email but had not sent it.
Ms. Weiss, a veteran of nearly two decades with the Law Department, noted on her LinkedIn page that she led a team of attorneys defending more than 80 civil rights cases, including five potential class action lawsuits, brought against the New York Police Department and the city that arose from Black Lives Matter protests during the summer of 2020.
Those lawsuits include one filed by the office of Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, and others by private lawyers. The city has denied wrongdoing in the lawsuits, according to the Law Department.
Ms. Weiss, in a statement, denied any wrongdoing. She said she had worked continuously on the litigation stemming from the demonstrations under “nonstop pressure and without adequate Law Department resources for more than a year, and what’s alleged is not true.”
“Under great pressure I made an unintentional mistake,” Ms. Weiss said, “in believing I had sent an email I drafted, when in fact, I never clicked the send button. I promptly took action to correct this mistake by notifying all involved parties as soon as I discovered it.”
Ms. Weiss said in the statement that the Law Department had “acted hastily” toward her, especially given what she described as “my 18 years of exemplary work, dozens of court victories defending hundreds of New York City police officers.”
On Monday, the judge, Gabriel W. Gorenstein, ordered the Law Department to investigate whether any other employees had made misrepresentations to the court or to lawyers on the other side, and to file weekly reports on the status of the inquiry until it was complete.
“Obviously, any such misrepresentations must be immediately corrected,” the judge wrote.
Nicholas Paolucci, a spokesman for the Law Department, said on Monday, “We hold our employees to the highest ethical standards and are very disappointed by this individual’s lapse in judgment, which is not representative of the excellent work of our dedicated and professional staff.”
“We do not tolerate this behavior under any circumstances,” Mr. Paolucci said, adding that the department had “promptly informed the court” of the issue.
“We are taking this matter very seriously and will ensure that the incident has no impact on any ongoing litigation,” he said.
The judge’s order to investigate other potential misrepresentations does not address the merits of the lawsuits. The attorney general’s lawsuit, for example, accused New York police officers of various ranks of “repeatedly and without justification” using batons, fist strikes, pepper spray and other physical force against protesters, “many of whom were never charged with any crime and were merely exercising their First Amendment rights,” the suit said.
Ms. James’s office declined to comment on Monday.
Ms. Weiss’s dismissal stemmed from a dispute over whether the Law Department had properly responded to a court order to turn over records requested by the plaintiffs relating to the circulation of a racist video in August 2019 by Edward D. Mullins, then president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, a police union, and other materials relating to Mr. Mullins.
Mr. Mullins has since retired after facing disciplinary charges, and in February was accused by U.S. prosecutors of defrauding the union of hundreds of thousands of dollars. He has pleaded not guilty.
In mid-April, after the judge had ordered the parties to confer about the adequacy of the city’s response, Rob Rickner, a plaintiff lawyer, wrote to the judge, saying the city had not been “completely forthcoming” and had “entirely failed to respond to two written follow-up requests” to meet about the issue.
A week later, Ms. Weiss wrote to the judge, saying she had in fact provided the plaintiff lawyers with a date for them to meet.
But on Friday, Patricia Miller, chief of the office’s special federal litigation division, wrote to the judge that she had learned that although Ms. Weiss had drafted an email, she never sent it.
“Thereafter, there were communications between plaintiffs’ counsel and the attorney involved concerning whether she ever sent the email,” Ms. Miller wrote. “It has now become clear that additional misrepresentations were made by the attorney involved in those communications.”
Mr. Rickner said on Monday, “We are deeply troubled by what has come to light, but cannot comment further because this is an ongoing issue before a federal judge.”
Ashley Southall contributed reporting and Kirsten Noyes contributed research.