BY Michael P. Riccards
The Hall Institute of Public Policy has examined the concept of prosecutorial misconduct, and with the Seton Hall Law School conducted a public lecture on the topic. Later, last month we raised the question of judicial misconduct with regards to “Judge Judy”” the highly rated television show which makes a mockery of justice. We were pleased to learn that Judge Wopner, the first television judge, apparently agrees with some of our criticisms.
Now, we want to raise the question of gubernatorial misconduct, specifically based on the long, investigative article in the New York Times on July 23, 2014. The Times is not anti-Cuomo, indeed it has been unimportant part of his coalition for over three years. But three of its journalists have completed a comprehesive, detailed examination of his behavior regarding his ethics commission. Only the New York Times has the in-depth resources to undertake such a study, and we are pleased to acknowledge their work.
Basically, the governor established a high powered commission last summer to root out corruption in state politics. Two months later, Cuomo through his staff stopped a subpoena from being served, saying “Pull it back”, which it did swiftly. The subpoena was meant to examine a media buying firm that placed millions of dollars’ worth of advertisements for the New York State Democratic Party. Unfortunately for the commission, one of those clients was the governor himself. Now members of the commission are saying that they have been hobbled from the start by the governor’s office. The Times found that whenever the commission focused on groups with ties to the governor or on issues that reflected poorly on him, they were thwarted. Ultimately, Cuomo abruptly disbanded the commission halfway through its 18 month life.
Cuomo and his staff have simply indicated that he created the commission and he could abridge it when he wanted. This is in contrast they say to the famous Moreland Commission which was created to investigate the Legislature. Actually the executive order of the governor made no distinction between investigating the legislature or the governor.
When members complained that they could not get legislators to honor subpoenas, the governor, a former prosecutor said, “It is too risky.” to force the issue. But then he proposed that since many of these leaders, especially his nemesis Sheldon Silver, are connected to law firms, the commission should go after subpoenas for the law firms. His suggestion was positively Nixonian,
When the commission went on later to look at the ad agency, whose biggest client in New York is Cuomo, spending some $20 million on ads since his ill fated governor ship race in 2002, a barrier came down on the members. Cuomo was already on record as denouncing a pay to play political culture driven by large checks. But now this group that was going to subpoena, at his suggestions, law firms to look into their work, thus implicating some legislators, had no power but what he thinks he granted them.
Now the New York Times has raised again some ethical issues, but one should also use their tremendous resources to examinet he entire Cuomo record from his being an aide to Mario Cuomo, to Secretary of HUD, to Attorney General. This misconduct seems to be more a pattern than an aberration.