A furious city councilman announced Tuesday that he was seeking to hold hearings on the admission of an administrative judge at the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs that there were quotas on finding storeowners guilty of violations.Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. said he wants to examine claims made by the department’s Judge Michele Mirro that she was punished for resisting pressure by superiors to find merchants guilty and impose the maximum fines on businesses in cases she oversaw.
“These serious allegations made by a senior judge confirm what was uncovered from officials inside Consumer Affairs and what our businesses have been saying for years — that our hardworking business people, especially in new immigrant communities, have been targeted and used as ATM’s for the city,” said Vallone, who is a leading candidate for Queens borough president.
Vallone said that Dan Garodnick, who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee, is “open to the idea.”
Mirro, the longest-tenured judge at the agency, said that superiors overruled her in numerous cases where she recommended a “not guilty” decision or a lower fine, according to her lawsuit filed Monday in Brooklyn Federal Court.
The suit names as defendants Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, Associate Commissioner Nancy Schindler, director of adjudication Bruce Dennis and deputy director James Plotkin.
Dennis instituted a policy in 2008 that stripped the administrative judges of their power to issue decisions without supervisory approval, and reclassified the judges’ initial decisions as drafts or recommendations, the suit alleges.
Mirro cites as an example a case decided last January in which a service station was found guilty of not displaying an Exxon logo above the black-and-white price sign. She found them not guilty but she was reversed and the gas station was given a $20,000 fine.
“After pressure from Plotkin and Dennis and repeated revisions to her decision Judge Mirro was forced to find the respondent guilty,” the complaint states.
Mirro was the whistleblower for the investigation by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio last month, which revealed that the department that oversees the city’s small businesses had a quota system in place for inspectors to write more violations and levy heavier fines. She says that her bosses retaliated by slapping her with disciplinary charges for incompetence and misconduct.
“It took a lot of courage for Judge Mirro to come forward,” de Blasio told Hamodia in a statement. “We’ve been blowing the whistle on DCA’s unfair and deceptive practices for months. This agency is more focused on filling the city’s coffers than protecting the public or supporting small businesses in this economy. We need reform now.”