A federal judge has cleared the way for New York City to publish tens of thousands of police disciplinary records, dealing a major blow to the city's police unions, which sought to block the long-awaited release of misconduct records shielded for decades from the public eye.

In a lengthy opinion, Judge Katherine Polk Failla said that attorneys for the public safety unions failed to show that the publication of the records would cause reputational or physical harm to police officers and their families.

Fears that the disclosures would fuel attacks on law enforcement, she said, had not materialized in other states with far more transparent public records laws. The decision prompted an unknown person on the teleconference call to proclaim: “Whoa!”

The judge offered an exception for certain low-level NYPD disciplinary decisions that she said were covered by the unions' contracts — a narrow carve-out that was largely granted under state law. But she rejected the unions’ attempts to “stretch” their contract provisions to shield most misconduct findings from the public record, even if they can still be removed from personnel folders.

The ruling comes after Judge Failla permitted the release of misconduct records obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union following the state legislature's repeal of New York Civil Rights Law section 50-a in June. That database was published on Thursday, after the organization fended off an appeal by the city’s police unions to the Second Circuit. ProPublica has also released its own database of records obtained through the Civilian Complaint Review Board.

"Any injunctive relief that I would order could not put that particular horse back in the barn," Judge Failla said.

Friday's decision allows for an even broader range of disclosures, including misconduct records generated by the NYPD’s Internal Affairs Unit, as well as records for firefighters and correctional officers.

The ruling also clears the Civilian Complaint Review Board to release its own database, containing both substantiated and unsubstantiated complaints. In a statement to Gothamist, CCRB chair Fred Davie said
the ruling allows the CCRB and other agencies to "once again be able to responsibly release disciplinary information to the public in accordance with FOIL and other laws.”

Attorneys for the unions had argued that the release of the records, particularly those that were not substantiated or finalized, constituted an invasion of privacy into officers’ lives.

"This a complete rejection of the unions' effort to undue the repeal of 50-a," said Chris Dunn, the Legal Director of the NYCLU. "The judge rejected every legal argument they made, and she rejected their fear mongering claims about the threats to police officers."

It’s unclear when the city will make the records available, and a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Inquiries to the attorney representing the coalition of unions were also not immediately returned. The judge gave the unions until Monday afternoon to appeal the ruling.

“This decision rightfully rejects the police unions’ baseless attempts to undermine the legislature’s decisive repeal of Police Secrecy Law 50-a and to continue hiding records of police discipline and misconduct,” Corey Stoughton, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said in a statement.

“To live up to the values of transparency and accountability underlying that repeal," she continued, "the city can and should immediately proceed with its plans to make police misconduct records accessible to the public, as promised by Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier this summer.”