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Judge Harold Baer dies at 81

Posted May 29, 2014 9:25 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr., whose decisions drew criticism from both sides of the political spectrum, has died at the age of 81.

Baer died from complications after a fall, his daughter told the New York Times.

Baer was best known, the Times says, for a 1996 ruling in which he tossed drug evidence—$4 million worth of cocaine and heroin. Baer had said police weren’t justified in searching a car trunk, just because men who had placed duffel bags in the trunk ran when they saw the officers.

Baer said the decision to run was not unusual in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, where some police officers were corrupt and brutal. “Residents in this neighborhood tended to regard police officers as corrupt, abusive and violent,” he wrote in his decision. “Had the men not run when the cops began to stare at them, it would have been unusual.”

The controversy led to calls for the judge’s impeachment or resignation. Baer reconsidered his decision and reversed himself two months later, citing additional evidence justifying the search.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. criticized Baer last year for his apparently “standard practice” of imposing race- and sex-based staffing requirements on law firms in class-certification orders. Baer defended himself, telling Reuters that he notes the value of such staffing but he doesn't make it a requirement. He also said he makes the staffing suggestion only in cases where the plaintiffs are mainly minorities and women.

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