NYCHA residents should have known that their kids would get lead poisoning in the city’s public housing complexes — just look at how crummy the apartments are, the scandal-scarred agency’s lawyers bizarrely claim in new court documents.
The assertion surfaced in Manhattan federal court Thursday — and made a judge go ballistic.
“Are you really asserting that people who go into NYCHA housing are assuming the risks? Tell me how a lawyer can responsibly assert such a claim,” Judge William Pauley III raged at the agency’s lawyers.
The jurist was reacting to court papers that the New York City Housing Authority filed on Sept. 27 in response to a class-action lawsuit by Sherron Paige and two other moms who say their public housing apartments gave their kids lead poisoning.
The authority claimed in the documents that the dilapidated conditions in NYCHA housing “are of an open, obvious and apparent nature . . . and plaintiffs willingly and voluntarily assumed all such risks.”
NYCHA lawyer Peter Kurshan defended the victim-blaming claim in court, calling the argument an “appropriate” move so early in the case.
Pauley wasn’t having it.
“You know what it is? It’s the kitchen sink. It’s just throwing in the kitchen sink,” he said.
He ordered the lawyers to amend the motion, warning, “Otherwise, I’m going to consider sanctions.”
He gave the lawyers a week to fix it but said it should only take an hour because “all you have to do is hit the delete button.”
NYCHA’s defense comes four months after federal prosecutors accused it in a lawsuit of repeatedly misleading tenants and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development about the presence of lead and its failure to conduct inspections.
“NYCHA falsely told HUD and the public that NYCHA ‘complies with federal, state and city regulations concerning lead,’ ” prosecutors wrote.
“But during this entire period, NYCHA was substantially out of compliance with important lead-paint regulations.”
Not only did NYCHA officials lie to the public and regulators about compliance with lead regulations, they often failed to even provide residents with required written disclosures about potential lead in apartments, prosecutors allege.
“Although NYCHA developments do make some of the disclosures required by the Lead Disclosure Rule, NYCHA management knows they do not consistently comply fully with the regulation,” prosecutors said.
The federal suit was filed June 11 and settled by the city the same day. As part of the deal, City Hall agreed to potentially spend an additional $2.2 billion over 10 years to fix crumbling public housing developments.
NYCHA did not return a request for comment.
Additional reporting by Nolan Hicks and Max Jaeger
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