Wright v. Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, et al. Historic Case

At a Glance

Case Description 

Wright v. Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, et al. is a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), together with attorneys from the National Conference of Black Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild, that challenged the constitutionality of Judge Bruce Wright’s transfer to civil court. The suit sought to enable his return to criminal court.

Bruce McMillan Wright, a Black New York City Criminal Court Judge, was particularly sensitive to the inhumane and frequently illegal processes of the criminal court system. For five years, he applied the Bill of Rights to New Yorkers accused of criminal conduct, including the right to reasonable bail, the presumption of innocence, and his right to speak out against injustice. As a result, he incurred the wrath of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), the District Attorney's Office, judges, and other "law and order" forces. In a transparent move to curtail his proclivity toward dispensing equal justice to poor people, Judge Wright was transferred from criminal to civil court.

After the suit was filed, the Criminal Courts Committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York investigated the transfer, concluding that Judge Wright's attackers were "unfair and uninformed" and urging that he be returned to the criminal bench. On February 27, 1978, Judge Wright was finally transferred back to Criminal Court.

Chief Judge Breitel, of the New York Court of Appeals, admitted to representatives of the Bar Association that he had made the decision to transfer Judge Wright. However, the Bar Association excised his statement of reasons from its final report. When attorneys sought to depose Association representatives who had heard the Chief Judge’s admissions, the Association moved to block the depositions. This motion was denied by the District Court.