Established in September of 1998, Special Federal Litigation was created as a specialized division to defend the City and its officials in civil rights cases brought in federal court in which police, District Attorney, or correction officer misconduct is claimed. The cases on which division attorneys work grow out of contact between citizens and law enforcement officers in three distinct contexts: police operations; criminal prosecutions; and detention of arrestees in the City's detention facilities. The facts on which the claims rest are frequently intricate, calling into play the fundamental problems faced by law enforcement officers in the field and society's perception of how those problems ought to be addressed. The law governing the resolution of these cases is the Constitution of the United States and the vastly complex area of federal law specific to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, the post-Civil War statute which authorizes suit for violation of constitutional rights. The Division defends against individual damages actions and class actions seeking institutional reform.
The Division faces a substantial volume of cases, in a complex, ever-changing area of law. The federal courts in which the Division attorneys exclusively practice maintain stringent standards and enforce strict deadlines. Division attorneys maintain active caseloads and are responsible for all aspects of litigation, from initial interviews of named defendants to investigation, depositions, paper discovery, negotiation of settlements, motions, court conferences, arguments, and trials by jury. Due to the high-profile nature of their work, many Division attorneys litigate actions that garner press coverage or are the subject of public debate.