Simpson Thacher Wins Big

It is unusual for a judge to lavish praise on a law firm in

his ruling from the bench. But then, the recent case in which New York State’s

system of financing public education  was found to be illegal was hardly a usual

case. Not only was the decision a

stirring victory for New York City, but it also highlighted the uncommon dedication

of the lawyers of the Manhattan firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, which

devoted over five years, 20 lawyers and $14 million of pro bono work for the

sake of New York City’s one-million-plus public school students. Simpson

Thacher’s chairman, Dick Beattie, and his legal team accomplished what New

York’s politicians have not had the courage, compassion and common sense to do,

namely to point out that the state has been ripping off the city for years when

it comes to education funding, and then to do something about it. In his

ruling, Justice Leland DeGrasse of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan wrote:

“The court commends the law firm of Simpson

Thacher & Bartlett …. The firm expended enormous resources and its

lawyers brought to bear great talent and perseverance in support of plaintiff’s

cause. The firm’s commitment is an exemplar of the Bar’s highest traditions.”

To quote the essence of the judge’s decision, “New York

State has over the course of many years consistently violated the State

Constitution by failing to provide the

opportunity for a sound basic education to New York City public school students.”

That’s because state officials haven’t thought twice about playing politics

with school money, giving a disproportionate share to suburban and rural

districts. The New York Times reports

that the state currently gives the city about $2,000 less per pupil than it

gives to Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Yonkers. The court also ruled that

the state has been running afoul of federal civil-rights laws, since its

policies fall hardest on the city’s minority students. Justice DeGrasse gave

the State Legislature until September to come up with a new school-financing

plan, which would include the hiring of more qualified teachers and principals,

smaller class sizes, renovation of school buildings, and investment in

computers and books. Governor George Pataki is considering an appeal but will

likely think twice, having already wasted $11 million of taxpayer money

fighting this case (money which went, outrageously, to an out-of-state law

firm).

It bears repeating that

none of this would have happened without the work of Simpson Thacher. Among the

20 lawyers who did the pro bono work, eight worked on the case full-time over

the past two years. “The schools have broken a covenant with students, and with

society,” wrote Justice DeGrasse in his decision.  Simpson Thacher’s attorneys have done great work toward repairing

that covenant.

A Desperate City

Council

New York voters, in

their wisdom, approved a ballot referendum several years ago limiting citywide

elected officials and City Council members to two four-year terms.

They did this twice: once in 1993, and again in 1996. The

second vote was made necessary when veteran Council members, faced with

unemployment, tried to undo term limits via a rather sneaky referendum. They

failed, thanks in part to the vigilance of Ronald Lauder, whose money and

activism inspired the term-limits campaign in the first place. Now, with term

limits about to put an end to the careers

of 36 of the Council’s 51 members, they’re at it again. This time, Council

members hope to pass a law to exclude themselves from the term-limits

provision. If they succeed, they’d be able to run for their current seats later

this year, although the three citywide elected officials-Mayor Rudolph

Giuliani, Public Advocate Mark Green and Comptroller Alan Hevesi-could not.

This desperate act ought

to outrage all New Yorkers. Council members regularly give speeches

attesting to the wisdom of the people. In the matter of term limits, the people

have made their opinions known, twice. In the eyes of some Council members, the

people are wise only to the extent that they agree with the Council’s

positions, particularly on matters of political employment.

Council Speaker Peter Vallone, who will see his own long

Council career brought to an end because of

term limits, wisely has counseled against this spiteful and profoundly

undemocratic course. But Council members are ignoring Mr. Vallone’s advice and

proceeding apace with the legislation.

The Mayor probably will veto the bill, but the Council may

have enough votes to override the veto. The question is this: They may have the

votes, but do they not have any shame?

Men and Nannygate

When Linda Chavez

withdrew her name from consideration as a Bush Cabinet nominee because

she once employed an illegal immigrant as a housekeeper, she joined a

lengthening list of women who have seen their political fortunes founder on

this issue. But as Linda Stasi recently pointed out in the New York Post , where are the men in all of this? The fact is that,

for all the talk of a modern marriage of equals, it is still the wife who tends

to hire the nanny or housekeeper-and who will then get punished, even publicly

humiliated, if she happens to be a contender for public office.

Surely many of the men

who sit securely in Washington, D.C. have hired illegal aliens as

gardeners or mechanics or caretakers. But because men do not usually get

involved in hiring nannies or baby-sitters, they are curiously exempt from

condemnation. Men do not run the household, so they cannot understand how hard

it is to find and keep a good nanny for your kids or to keep a home in order.

Thus, Ms. Chavez, Zoë Baird, Kimba Wood and other talented and ambitious women

pay the price for the simple fact that they are doing the hard work of running

a house. 

The short-term answer is easy: make the husband hire the

nanny. But don’t go overboard: Make sure the wife still does the interviewing.

Simpson Thacher Wins Big