Last week, New York City was poised to release a trove of NYPD disciplinary records, following the state legislature's repeal of New York Civil Rights Law section 50-A in June. But a state judge has granted a request from police, fire, and correction unions to block the release until the matter can be decided in federal court.

The unions argue that only "substantiated" complaints against officers should be made public, and that "unsubstantiated" misconduct allegations should remain secret, a position that runs contrary to the state's repeal of 50-A, and one that police transparency advocates say would effectively shield many records from scrutiny.

The delay seemingly stems in part from errors made by attorneys for the city's Law Department, which is run by James Johnson. According to a transcript of a state court hearing from last week, City attorneys did not contest a delay proposed by the unions until they realized that the State Supreme Court Judge, Carol Edmead, had no authority to issue one because the matter was moved to federal court. But the City had technically filed for that change of venue after Judge Edmead had issued her order that delayed the release of records, so the jurist said she was forced to let it stand.

"I mean, quite honestly, taking no position, the issue is a critical issue to the petitioners/plaintiffs and in an abundance of caution on their behalf they are looking for nothing to happen, slip through, while they're waiting to go to federal court and I understand that," Judge Edmead told City attorney Rebecca Quinn. "And if you were accurate with respect to what came first, I would have to comply with that, but in light of the fact that this Court's order, which granted the interim stay, preceded the Notice of Removal in compliance with rules and guidelines, the order of this Court stands."

A spokesperson for the Law Department, Nick Paolucci, pinned the delay on an "expansive" order by Judge Edmead, "which we have and continue to vigorously oppose."

"We’re going to vigorously fight the stay as well as the rest of the claims to provide transparency to the public as the law intended," he said.

The repeal of 50-A requires police departments across the state to release all disciplinary data, with redactions to protect private information like home addresses. Only records on "technical infractions" may be withheld. Those are defined by the statute as "solely related to the enforcement of administrative departmental rules that (a) do not involve interactions with members of the public, (b) are not of public concern, and (c) are not otherwise connected to such person's investigative, enforcement, training, supervision, or reporting responsibilities."

The de Blasio administration was set to release two different police disciplinary databases this month: one from the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and one from the NYPD itself.

Crucially, an "unsubstantiated" complaint in the CCRB's database means that the agency could not prove an allegation, not that an officer has been exonerated. It is not clear how the NYPD determines when a complaint has been "substantiated" or not. The NYPD did not return our request for comment.

"The lawsuit rightfully contends that due process demands that mere allegations with no finding of misconduct have no place in the public domain," Hank Sheinkopf, a spokesperson for the police unions, wrote in a text message.

Christopher Dunn, the legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the police unions are "capitalizing on the fact that these departments almost uniformly fail to find misconduct. Not because it doesn't exist, but because they don't take it seriously." He said he thought the delay was a "temporary setback," and the NYCLU has requested the ability to file an amicus brief to speed the release of the records. The case is now before Federal Judge Katherine Failla of the Southern District.

"We're going to be able to start investigating whether the failure to substantiate complaints reflects problems with investigations, versus problems with police department cooperation, versus the possibility that the complaint is invalid," Dunn explained.

"The disciplinary systems are so ineffective, that no surprise, virtually all complaints of misconduct are not found to be substantiated when the police department is doing [the investigation] itself, and that's a whole part of the problem."