10/05/2012 11:26 am ET

NYC Loitering Laws In City Housing Projects Too Vague, Federal Judge Rules

On Thursday, a lawsuit challenging loitering laws in New York City public housing complexes gained support to move towards a trial when a federal judge ruled the current practices were too vague.

The Wall Street Journal reports Judge Shira Scheindlin deemed loitering laws gave too much power to police officials.

Additionally, Scheindlin's ruling said posters prohibiting loitering in areas of city projects did not justify all arrests, as "the NYCHA rule as posted cannot reasonably be read to mean that residents are prohibited from ever being there."

Johanna B. Steinberg of the NAACP applauded Thursday's ruling and said it was "an important decision that rejects the city's attempt to deny our clients claims regarding being stopped and arrested by the NYPD on NYCHA property."

Earlier this year, the city was forced to pay $15 million to loiterers illegally arrested since 1983 when a judge struck down a loitering ordinance similarly declared too vague.

Katherine Rosenfeld, an attorney representing eight people in the class-action suit, said of the victory, "Thousands of New Yorkers were arrested and forced to defend themselves in court, and even serve time in jail, for completely legal behavior. All of the people who got charged under these statutes had not very much power: homeless people, gay people, marginalized people, vulnerable people."

The city expressed disappointment over Scheindlin's ruling. Assistant Corporation Counsel Brenda Cooke said, "We respectfully disagree with the court's analysis, which fails to distinguish between, on the one hand, trespassing in a prohibited area like a rooftop or a boiler room and on the other hand, loitering in common areas in violation of NYCHA's rules."

In 2010, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly stepped in and issued an order for police to cease loitering arrests.