Attorney General

James Announces Top Staff

Attorney General-elect Tish James on Tuesday announced a slate of top staff for her office.

James has appointed Ibrahim Khan her chief of staff. Khan comes from James’s public advocate office, having served as deputy PA.

Jennifer Levy of Legal Aid will serve as chief deputy attorney general for social justice.

And Jose Maldonado will serve as chief deputy attorney general for criminal justice.

James previously announced incumbent Attorney General Barbara Underwood will return as the state’s solicitor general.

No Criminal Charges For Schneiderman

Former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will not face criminal charges related to allegations of physical abuse by multiple women that ultimately triggered his resignation from office.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, who had been appointed to investigate Schneiderman, interviewed the women as well as members of Schneiderman’s staff.

“Following an exhaustive review, evaluation of the facts, the law, and applicable statutes of limitations,” she said.

“I believe the women who shared their experiences with our investigation team, however legal impediments, including statutes of limitations, preclude criminal prosecution. Our investigation also highlighted deficiencies in New York law for which I have drafted remedial legislation.”

Schneiderman resigned hours after The New Yorker reported the allegations of multiple women that Schneiderman had been physically abusive. He was replaced by Barbara Underwood who is completing the unexpired term. On Tuesday, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James was elected the next attorney general on Tuesday.

“I recognize that District Attorney Singas’ decision not to prosecute does not mean I have done nothing wrong,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “I accept full responsibility for my conduct in my relationships with my accusers, and for the impact it had on them. After spending time in a rehab facility, I am committed to a lifelong path of recovery and making amends to those I have harmed. I apologize for any and all pain that I have caused, and I apologize to the people of the State of New York for disappointing them after they put their trust in me.”

Wofford Endorsed by Construction Group

The Republican candidate for state Attorney General, Keith Wofford, was endorsed by the Empire State Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors in his campaign to be New York’s next chief legal officer.

“We believe that Keith, unlike his opponent, has a high moral compass and the integrity to do what is right for the people of this state,” said Brian Sampson, President of ABC, Empire State. “Unlike his opponent, he will apply a fair and even hand to the laws and regulations and not let any campaign donors, or the Governor, dictate the positions his office will enforce. Keith Wofford is the only Attorney General candidate that will lead New York to a better future.”

Wofford faces New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, who won a four-way Democratic primary in September.

New York’s current Attorney General Barbara Underwood is not seeking a full term.

Wofford Says Senate Must Take Kavanaugh Allegations Seriously

From the Morning Memo:

If Republican state AG candidate Keith Wofford wins in November, he is aware that he would likely deal with cases that ultimately go before the U.S. Supreme Court, which may or may not at this point include a new justice: Brett Kavanaugh.

Traveling the western part of the state this week, Wofford said he did not get to watch the entire testimony from Kavanaugh or his accuser, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. However, he said he is not dismissing the allegations against the judge.

“This whole area of sexual abuse and sexual harassment claims needs to be taken very seriously,” Wofford said. “The committee is trying to do that and they need to continue to do that.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee appears to be prepared to move forward with a vote today, which could set up a confirmation vote early next week, though the first votes could be taken as early as tomorrow.

Though some – mostly Democrats, and a handful of Republicans – have called for a delay in the vote given the new accusations that are piling up against Kavanaugh, Wofford would not weigh in on the timeline adopted by the committee members during an interview Thursday in Buffalo.

“I’m going to leave it up to them,” he said. “They’re going to have to see based on what they see whether the credibility determination is enough or whether they want more. It’s up to them.”

Wofford said he does not take sexual abuse claims lightly, and would continue investigating claims against the Catholic Church, for instance, if he wins his uphill battle against the Democratic AG candidate, NYC Pubic Advocate Tish James, in the general election.

Wofford Says He’ll Go After Public Corruption ‘From Day One’

Republican Attorney General candidate Keith Wofford believes he would have broad authority to combat corruption in state government and promised to begin in investigating issues immediately if elected.

Wofford said the state constitution not only gives the AG’s office independent authority, it obligates the officeholder to prosecute corruption. On top of that, the candidate cited roughly a half a dozen different statutes he believes he would give him the tools needed to take on the issue.

The candidate said corruption is the number one issue in the race and argued it is costing taxpayers “a fortune.” He drew a distinction between himself and Democratic candidate Letitia James who on various occasions has said the state Legislature needs to approve new laws.

“I just want the people to know that from Day One, when I’m elected attorney general, we’re not going to have to wait for the Legislature. Contrary to what my opponent says, an effective attorney general can go after the biggest issue out there, that is public corruption, from Day One,” Wofford said.

James’ campaign said her record of taking on entrenched forces stands in stark contrast to Wofford.

“It’s incredible that Mr. Wofford is now suggesting that he can tackle corruption, given his support of Donald Trump,” said Delaney Kempner, campaign spokesperson.

Wofford did not rule out asking legislators to pass new laws but said he has no plans to wait for them to do so. He pointed to bid-rigging in particular as a major problem and said there are different angles to address it, including civil action to invalidate contracts, in addition to criminal prosecution.

“When the taxpayers are injured, it’s not just that the person who did wrong isn’t in jail. It’s that we have a lousy deal that hurts the taxpayers,” he said.

Wofford said, if elected, he plans to talk about guidelines, red flags, and best practices to avoid further issues. He said his office will look at campaign contributions and their connection to contracts.

However, in a departure from the stance of GOP gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro, Wofford said he doesn’t believe in banning contributions from people or businesses with which the government is contracting.

“I believe in First Amendment rights of people to give and to contribute,” he said. “People have an interest whether it’s a personal interest or a commercial interest. I actually believe in the right to give. It’s not the giving that’s the issue. It’s the question of whether there’s a nexus between giving and action by the government.”

What You Need To Know About The AG’s Race

New York State voters find themselves within the throes of an election season, as a number of national and statewide races populate the political fabric on all fronts.

While there are many important races to keep an eye on, one in particular should not get overlooked: the race for state attorney general.

Before getting into the candidates, let’s answer the question, ‘What does the attorney general do?’
 
Simply put, the attorney general is the official lawyer for the citizens of New York state, also fondly referred to as the ‘People’s Lawyer.’

A de facto definition on the office’s website says the attorney general “serves as the guardian of the legal rights of the citizens of New York, its organizations and its natural resources.”

As defender and protector of the rights and interests of the state, the attorney general is similarly no stranger to taking on the federal government. The attorney general also serves as a counsel to the governor, and may be tasked with investigations, and or asked to take on cases at the executive branch’s bequest.
 
Certain office holders have elevated the role’s profile in years past, and in doing so, simultaneously bolstered their political careers. Eliot Spitzer took on Wall Street corruption, fighting against fraudulent financial schemes, significantly expanding the expectations of what can be expected of the office. Gov. Andrew Cuomo was also the state’s top legal officer, a role that would eventually propel him into the Executive Mansion.
 
The post’s most recent occupant, Eric Schneiderman, abruptly resigned in May 2017 amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Schneiderman used his position to take on the Trump administration, taking action against policies like the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, arguing that the SALT cap would deliver a devastating blow to New Yorkers.
 
The job is currently held by Barbara Underwood, the former state solicitor general who assumed the role following Schneiderman’s resignation after being appointed by the Legislature. Underwood declined to run for the post, promising to step down once a candidate is elected.

So who is running?

On the Democratic side, the four contenders include: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, Hudson Valley Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Fordham Law Professor Zephyr Teachout and ex-Cuomo economic development aide Leecia Eve.

James has been endorsed by Cuomo and much of the state’s Democratic Party establishment. During May’s State Democratic Convention, her candidacy was embraced with open arms. She’s since raked in a number of notable endorsements from unions and progressive groups. Results from a July Siena poll showed her leading the other candidates, but a caveat remains: she’s virtually unknown to upstate voters and has little campaign cash.

Maloney represents New York’s 18th District. He’s a former Clinton staffer and the first openly gay member of Congress to represent New York. This is his second bid for attorney general; he ran unsuccessfully in 2006, losing the nomination to Cuomo. Maloney boasts an impressive campaign finance arsenal, reportedly raising $500,000 within the first week of officially announcing his candidacy. Maloney simultaneously finds himself running for re-election for his current job in the 18th.

Teachout — the Fordham Law School Professor who bested Cuomo in majority of the Capital Region counties in her unsuccessful primary bid for Governor in 2014 — is touting her commitment to being independent from the Governor, her refusal to take corporate donations and her intention to hold the Trump administration accountable. Teachout garnered an endorsement from the New York Times editorial board, and has been embraced by members several newer members of the progressive left, such as Democratic congressional candidate in New York’s 14th District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Eve, a former vice president for government affairs at Verizon, is no stranger to the political realm. The Buffalo native worked with the Senators Hilary Clinton and Joe Biden, and formerly worked under Cuomo. But Eve has been strangely absent from the campaign trail, making few public appearances and saying little to reporters.

One aspect dogging the candidates is that of independence from the Governor, a challenge built in to the nature of the office, as per the aforementioned inextricable ties to the executive branch. Nonetheless, all four of Democrats have insisted their commitment to acting independently.

The victor of the Sept. 13 primary election will faceoff with the only Republican in the race, Keith Wofford. Wofford is a partner at New York City based firm Ropes & Gray, although he is currently taking a leaving of absence due to the campaign. The contest is his first bid for elected office.

The general election is Nov. 6.

Underwood Pushes Back Against EPA Rollback Of Chemical Regs

Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office on Friday announced it was opposed to a proposal she says would roll back regulatory guidelines for chemical accidents meant to protect communities and first responders.

Underwood’s office, leading a 12-state coalition of attorneys general, filed comments with the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the move that rescinds provisions in the 2017 amendments of the agency’s Risk Management Program.

“Yet again, the Trump Administration is proposing to sell out the health and safety of New Yorkers to corporate interests – jeopardizing our workers, first-responders, and communities,” Underwood said. “The EPA’s proposal would gut critical protections against all-too-common accidents at facilities that store and use dangerous toxic chemicals. If acting EPA Administrator Wheeler won’t scrap this reckless erosion of New Yorkers’ health and safety protections, we’re prepared to take legal action yet again to ensure a court does.”

At issue are amendments for accident prevention, meant to make improvements to safeguards against explosions, fires, gas releases and other accidents at facilities that house toxic chemicals.

Before the EPA had sought to make the changes to the program, then-Administration Scot Pruitt had backed blocking the rule from taking effect for 20 months.

AFL-CIO Endorses James For AG

Democratic attorney general candidate Letitia James on Tuesday was endorsed by the New York State AFL-CIO as she faces a four-way primary for the party’s nomination.

“As the Public Advocate for the City of New York, Tish James stood up for all New Yorkers,” said AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento. “She will bring that same passion statewide as our Attorney General to protect New Yorkers against the onslaught of attacks by those in Washington set out to destroy the middle class.”

The endorsement from the labor group is the capstone to the series of establishment nods James, the New York City public advocate, has received in the campaign. The AFL-CIO has endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo this year after sitting out the gubernatorial race in 2014; Cuomo is backing James in the attorney general race.

“For generations, the NYS AFL-CIO has led the fight for social and economic justice for millions of New Yorkers and I am honored to earn their support. As the next Attorney General, I will continue to work hand in hand with the members of the NYS AFL-CIO to ensure they have the fair wages, safe work conditions, and support they need,” James said. “I’ll never waver in my commitment to protecting the hardworking men and women of New York and will never shy away from challenging Donald Trump or any force that tries to roll back workers’ rights.”

James faces Leecia Eve, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout in the Sept. 13 primary. The winner faces Republican Keith Wofford in the November general election.

Underwood Says She Will Challenge Scrapping Of Clean Power Plan

New York will file a legal challenge if the push to end the Clean Power Plan succeeds, Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Tuesday said in a statement. m

President Donald Trump’s administration earlier in the day signaled it would move to scrap the Obama-era renewable and clean power regulations that limit emissions from fossil-fuel power plants attributed to the changing climate.

“As we face another record-breaking year of punishing heat and violent storms, the Trump administration is seeking to gut crucial limits on emissions of climate change pollution from power plants – one of its largest sources,” Underwood said.

“’Climate change is real, no matter how much this administration tries to deny it. We need strong, immediate action to drastically cut climate change pollution and promote affordable, clean, and sustainable energy — not foot dragging and backtracking that seeks to prop up dirty, expensive power plants. If the Trump administration’s proposal to dismantle the Clean Power Plan is adopted, we will work with our state and local partners to file suit to block it – in order to protect New Yorkers, and all Americans, from the increasingly devastating impacts of climate change.”

New York is leading a multi-state and multi-city coalition that backs the continuation of the Clean Power Plan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement also blasted the move by the Trump administration.

“The future of our environment, our economy and our children is at stake, and New York will not let President Trump take us backward. Today I am proud to announce that New York will join the Powering Past Coal Alliance to share our expertise and experience and continue to lead the fight against dirty and dangerous fossil fuels,” Cuomo said. “With our bold mandate to close all coal-fired power plants by 2020 and our nation-leading commitment to renewables, we are already at the forefront of the clean energy revolution and we will not go back.”

James Wants Special Session To Close ‘Double Jeopardy’ Pardon Loophole

Democratic candidate for attorney general Letitia James on Monday called for a special session to consider a bill that would prevent the president of the United States from pardoning people who are convicted of crimes committed in New York.

The push comes as the jury in the trial of President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort continues to deliberated bank fraud and money laundering charges.

James, the New York City public advocate, wrote to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to push for the session.

“While the rule against double jeopardy is a fundamental safeguard against persecution by prosecution, this legislation is narrowly tailored and necessary,” she said. “New York State, its lawmakers, and its Attorney General, can, and should, stand in the breach as a defense against the intentional dismantling of the checks and balances that protect us from autocracy. Our current Attorney General has urged that this law be passed so she can do her job. If I am elected as Attorney General, I will use the office to prosecute those crimes that fall within my jurisdiction.”

A special session is highly unlikely.

Cuomo had sought to push Republicans in the state Senate to return to Albany to approve an extension of a speed camera program for New York City schools, but has not formally called one. Republicans could simply gavel in and out of the session and not take up the bill.

Senate Republicans, in turn, have called for the passage of local tax extensions that were not completed when the legislative session ended in June.

Heastie has said it’s unlikely his conference will return to Albany for a session barring an emergency.

James is running in a four-way race for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, facing Leecia Eve, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and Zephyr Teachout.