Cuomo ethics probe could die with outgoing commission

ALBANY — Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was supposed to face an ethics hearing last month to find out if he broke the law by using state employees to help produce a book that earned him millions of dollars.

But a presiding officer overseeing the hearing moved the date to September 15, according to a filing from Cuomo’s legal team on Thursday — and by then the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics will no longer exist. , throwing the future of the one-year survey. in question.

In July, the new Commission on Ethics and Government Lobbying will replace the JCOPE following an agreement inserted into this year’s budget legislation. It’s unclear whether the new body will take over the management of JCOPE’s legal actions against Cuomo and attempt to keep the September court date in place.

Cuomo’s attorney, Rita Glavin, said in a legal filing on Thursday that because JCOPE is fading, she had made an offer to halt Cuomo’s own lawsuit — filed in April in the US Supreme Court. State – which alleges the panel’s ethics investigation was tainted with prejudicial actions. . Because JCOPE closes on July 8, Glavin explained, there will be no legal controversy for a court to decide.

But JCOPE would only agree to end the case if Glavin agreed to drop Cuomo’s lawsuit “with prejudice,” which would prevent the former governor from filing the same type of lawsuit again against the new agency. ethics.

“The JCOPE attorney advised us that the JCOPE commissioners were concerned that the governor would sue again if any of the current JCOPE commissioners were to be appointed” to the new ethics body, Glavin wrote Thursday. Governor Kathy Hochul’s office, however, says the law creating the new panel bars all current JCOPE commissioners from serving on the new body.

In any case, Cuomo did not agree to JCOPE’s terms.

Glavin said that unlike the law that created JCOPE in 2011, the law creating the new ethics commission contains no provision that “expressly provides for the survival” of the current panel’s ongoing actions and proceedings after July 8. Accordingly, Glavin argued, the new commission should take its own steps related to such proceedings.

Cuomo’s lawsuit argues that JCOPE violated his constitutional due process rights by allegedly prejudging the ethics inquiry into whether he misused state resources to write “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Cuomo’s team also argued that a counterclaim filed by JCOPE should be dismissed, according to a memorandum submitted Thursday to the Albany County Clerk.

The JCOPE lawsuit had asked Cuomo to repay the state the $5.1 million in revenue from his book and not spend the money in the meantime. The ethics commission ruled last year that the book was produced in violation of Cuomo’s explicit promise not to use government personnel to produce the book. The ex-governor acknowledged that government staff helped him a lot, but maintains that they “volunteered themselves”, making the work legal.

While JCOPE’s investigation is ongoing, the panel argues that regardless of this outcome, Cuomo clearly violated his 2020 vow.

Cuomo’s attorney, James McGuire, said in Thursday’s filing that “the central question presented in this motion can be stated, without hyperbole, as follows: Does JCOPE have the breathtaking and unprecedented power to demand that a person subject to this power pay a fine – even if it has not been determined that they have violated a law that JCOPE is responsible for enforcing….”

JCOPE maintained that its actions were legal and filed the counterclaim on May 6, outlining its grounds for asking Cuomo to promptly return the proceeds of the book.

The ethics committee initially sought to have the state attorney general’s office enforce an order ordering Cuomo to “return” the funds. But a letter from the attorney general’s office said JCOPE had no authority to compel the action until a full investigation was conducted into whether he violated state law.

Cuomo’s team also argues that JCOPE should be obligated to pay Cuomo’s legal fees.

“This has all been politics from the start,” Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said in a statement. “…due process, constitutional rights and the letter of the law be damned.”

Hochul took over from Cuomo in August, when he resigned under threat of impeachment. Though now critical of JCOPE’s structure, namely that its members are appointed and allegedly influenced by state politicians, Cuomo has done little to reform the oft-maligned ethics agency over the course of his decade in power. The panel was created by Cuomo and legislative leaders in 2011; for years, one of the main criticisms of the ethics body was that it was too influenced by the Executive Chamber.

Since Cuomo’s resignation, however, five of his six agency commissioners have been replaced by Hochul’s appointees.

The new ethics committee is meant to be more independent of the influence of elected officials who appoint its members, though good government groups complain that true independence is likely to remain elusive. The new panel will, however, operate under rules more likely to allow for investigations that could jeopardize those making the appointments.

Aurora J. William