Attorney General

After Libous Conviction, AG Renews Ethics Reform Call

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office had a hand in the investigation that led to the conviction yesterday of now former Sen. Tim Libous, called the Binghamton Republican’s political demise “sad,” and said it should reignite calls for additional ethics reform in Albany.

“These cases are always sad cases,” Schneiderman said of his former Senate colleague during a CapTon interview last night. “To have someone who is supposed to be in public service, swears to uphold the public trust, found to be guilty of a crime, it’s never happy.”

“And it really is, again, another reminder, in my view, that the structure in Albany has to be dramatically changed if you’re going to change the culture,” the AG continued.

“It’s really something that has been happening way too often, and it’s not going to stop. I proposed some very drastic reforms myself, proposed legislation. And I think either that or something like that has to happen, or people will continue to be investigated, and the public trust will be further eroded.”

In the wake of the corruption scandal that brought down former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at the beginning of this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a package of ethics reform measures and vowed to force the Legislature’s hand in accepting it as part of this year’s budget deal – even if that meant shutting down the government.

In the end, however, Cuomo comprised on ethics reform.

He focused mostly on more disclosure of lawmakers’ outside income, got some – but not all – of what he wanted, and ended up with changes that good government advocates and others said were not significant enough to really address Albany’s pervasive corruption problem.

Schneiderman went considerably further in his ethics reform proposals, which included a call to ban moonlighting by state lawmakers and giving them a big pay raise to compensate for their lost outside income.

The AG called on Cuomo to stick to his guns on reform, saying a late budget would be a “small price to pay” for systemic change in Albany.

After Libous’ conviction of a single felony count of lying to the FBI about using his public post to get his son, Matthew, a job at a politically connected law firm – a decision that automatically ejected him from his Senate seat – six good government groups renewed their call for a special legislative session to address ethics reform.

The groups said the failure to address outstanding issues – like closing the LLC loophole in the campaign finance law, which is now the subject of a lawsuit by some of the same entities – is “indefensible” and “shockingly irresponsible”, and the governor should demand the Legislature’s speedy return to Albany.

Schneiderman declined to go quite that far.

“I think that there is a lot more support than people think in the Legislature itself for dramatic reforms,” the AG said. “A lot of the younger members in particular from the Senate and Assembly have said to me, ‘Yeah, we actually like this idea,’…we’ve got to hermetically seal them off, to the extent we can, from money in government and from money in politics.”

“…Albany has become a place where everyone drives 90 miles an hour, and if you pull them over, their first reaction is not, ‘Oh, I’m breaking the law,’ it’s, ‘Why are you pulling me over? Everyone here drives 90 miles an hour.’ It’s something that really has to be shaken up in a big way, and I think the sooner the better.”

The AG declined to criticize Cuomo for failing to wrest a more significant reform deal from the Legislature, saying the governor had a “lot of things on his plate” and an unusually difficult legislative session that saw the ouster of not one, but two conference leaders as a result of corruption scandals.

“I do think that support is building, and will continue to build,” Schneiderman said. “And this is going to end with a bigger reform movement, it’s going to end with some kind of comprehensive reform. Otherwise, this is going to keep happening.”

“And I tell this to my colleagues, most of whom are completely honorable public servants in the state Legislature: You’ve got to do something about this…this is the kind of stuff that makes people lose their confidence in government.”

Schneiderman defended himself – and Cuomo – for calling for closure of the LLC loophole and then turning around and using it to raise campaign cash by saying that unilateral disarmament is “not the right answer” and has “not worked traditionally.”

Schneiderman Confident He Can Work With DAs

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Tuesday said he was confident he will be able to smooth over differences with district attorneys around the state upset over an executive order empowering the AG’s office to investigate police-related killings of civilians.

“I’m confident we’re going to work something out,” Schneiderman said on The Capitol Pressroom. “It was met with some surprise and outrage by some DAs, but I think at the end of the day these are good public servants who want to see justice done.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month granted Schneiderman’s office the power of special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute cases in which police kill civilians — a power the attorney general had sought since December following a grand jury declining to indict a police officer in the choke hold death of an unarmed black man on Staten Island.

The order was signed after Cuomo and state lawmakers could not agree on a package of legislative changes, such as new grand jury transparency requirements and a special monitor for cases in which civilians die in encounters with police.

Cuomo has said he will try again next year on a criminal justice bill. Schneiderman’s special prosecutor role expires after 12 months, but can be renewed.

But the move has been met with criticism and skepticism by district attorneys after Cuomo and Schneiderman raised concerns over whether the local prosecutors had a conflict of interest in seeking charges against police.

“When you hear the pain of those families you want to give them the comfort that there’s no perceived conflict of interest,” Schneiderman said in the interview.

Schneiderman’s office last week sent a memorandum and letter to district attorneys informing them they have the power to respond first in police-related killing cases, such as questioning witnesses and collecting evidence. They do not have the power, however, grant immunity or question witnesses before a grand jury.

DAs have raised the possibility of a legal challenge to the executive order and believe the memo from Schneiderman conflicts with the concern that prosecutors are too close with police.

But Schneiderman today insisted he’s trying to work with DAs to develop a system in which the public can have restored faith in the criminal justice system, which the AG said is in need of broader changes.

Schneiderman met with the statewide district attorneys association soon after the executive order was signed by Cuomo.

“I’ve been engaged with them since day one,” Schneiderman said. “We’ve been having a dialogue ever since with them. I’m confident this will be worked because these cases are too important.”

Schneiderman Pushes Expanded Criminal Justice Reforms

After Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved special prosecutor status for his office in police-related killings, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on Monday published an op/ed laying out an expanded push for criminal justice reform measures.

In the op/ed published on The Huffington Post website this morning, Schniederman calls for the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state, a measure that faltered at the end of the legislative session.

Cuomo and lawmakers could not agree on a broad juvenile justice reform package that included moving certain cases involving those under 18 to Family Court. Instead, the state will begin moving some youthful offenders to alternative facilities.

The attorney general argued in the essay that the reform proposal shouldn’t be dropped.

“In those cases where our children do end up in the system, they should be treated as children,” he wrote. “After the governor and legislature failed to agree on a “Raise the Age” proposal this past session, New York remains one of only two states that automatically treats 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. This is unconscionable.”

At the same time, Schneiderman is backing changes to the bail system, which he calls “unjust.”

“Unable to pay for bail, they languish in Rikers Island or other jails while they await trial, regardless of guilt,” he wrote.

The op/ed comes as Schneiderman and the state’s elected district attorneys are in open disagreement over the protocols under the executive order, approved by Cuomo earlier this month.

Schneiderman, under the order, is empowered to investigate and prosecute cases in which police kill civilians. In turn, Schneiderman has told DAs they can question witnesses and collect evidence, but not confer immunity or question them before a grand jury.

For DAs, the Schneiderman directive is in conflict with the executive, but the AG’s office has insisted there are no legal problems with DAs initiating an investigation.

Schneiderman And DAs Trade Letters On Police Probe Authority

District attorneys are continuing to push back against an executive order that designates Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the special prosecutor in cases in which police kill civilians.

At the same time, Schneiderman in a letter to the president of the District Attorneys Association wrote this week that some members have sought to “create uncertainty where none is warranted.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week signed an executive order granting Schneiderman’s office special prosecutor status in police killing cases. The move was opposed by district attorneys, who criticized Cuomo’s claims that DAs have a “perceived” conflict in cases involving law enforcement.

Schneiderman, in turn, released a memorandum to the state’s 62 district attorneys lays out their role in cases in which police have killed a civilian.

The attorney general’s office, in sum, granted powers that were previously possessed by district attorneys such as questioning witnesses, drafting search warrants and preserving evidence.

However, the district attorney offices may not confer immunity on witnesses or elicit testimony in grand jury proceedings.

District attorneys have bristled at the memorandum, questioning why Schneiderman is, in essence, bestowing power to them they had prior to the executive order.

In a letter released by the district attorneys association, Broome County DA Gerald Mollen suggested Schneiderman’s memorandum and the executive order were in conflict.

“Beyond substantial legal concerns,” Mollen wrote in the letter dated Thursday, “remains the obvious logical inconsistency of superseding all 62 elected District Attorneys due to a perceived conflict of interest and loss of confidence, only to immediately designate them to perform crucial tasks at the most critical time in the investigation of one of these controversial incidents.”

Schneiderman’s office in response released its own letter that was sent on Wednesday in response to concerns raised by DAs.

The letter points out the then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in 1972 suspended the powers of DAs in New York City for certain corruption crimes over the course of five days — a move recommended by the Knapp Commission, which was upheld by the state Court of Appeals.

At the same time, Schneiderman wrote there is no legal restriction on DAs taking action begin an investigation in the wake of an incident in which a police officer kills a civilian.

If the DA fails to take action in the case it will be “because of the choice by the District Attorney not to take appropriate actions.”

Schneiderman’s office in a statement said the attorney general will continue to work with local district attorneys to enact the executive order.

“As we have consistently said, the Attorney General is working in good faith to cooperate with the District Attorneys to ensure the Executive Order is implemented in a way that promotes justice by ensuring a thorough and impartial review of any cases that arise,” said Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera.

Cuomo signed the executive order this month after state lawmakers could not agree on a package of criminal justice reforms that had been called for after a spate of incidents in which police had killed unarmed black men.

Speaking at a gathering of the NAACP this week, Cuomo said the executive order empowering Schneiderman as special prosecutor could be a national model.

DAASNY Mollen to AG Schneiderman 7 16 2015 FINAL .pdf by Nick Reisman

Schneiderman Mollen 071515 by Nick Reisman

In Memo, Schneiderman Outlines DAs Role (Updated)

A memorandum sent by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to district attorneys around the state outlines their role in investigations involving police-related deaths of civilians.

The memo grants some powers — previously possessed by DAs — when it comes to specific cases, despite the executive order granting Schneiderman the role of special prosecutor.

The memo states that DAs may question witnesses, draft search warrants, preserve evidence, but may not confer immunity or elicit testimony in grand jury proceedings.

From the memo, which was provided by Rensselaer County DA Joel Abelove:

“In such matters, I hereby designate you, the Distract Attorney, to exercise such powers and perform such duties in your county of jurisdiction as you deem appropriate under the circumstances until such time as you are direct otherwise in writing by the Special Prosecutor. This includes, but is not limited to, questioning witnesses, drafting search warrants, preserving evidence, and supporting the investigation of the incident, but does not include, without prior authorization from the Special Prosecutor or his designee, conferring immunity on any witness, eliciting witness testimony in grand jury proceedings, or entering plea or cooperation agreements.”

Schneiderman’s office was empowered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo through executive order to investigate and prosecute cases in which civilians are killed in encounters by police, a move that has angered local DAs who otherwise would have jurisdiction.

Schneiderman personally gave a presentation alongside Cuomo counsel Alphonso David to the state DAs association in Saratoga Springs last week on the executive order and special prosecutor’s office that’s now under his jurisdiction.

In a letter accompanying the memo, Schneiderman writes to DAs that the outline of duties for the DA is a “first step in that coordination” that he pledged at the conference.

The responsibilities outlined by Schneiderman are aimed to “give you the latitude to operate in the crucial hours after the incident.”

Abelove, in an interview on Fred Dicker’s Talk-1300 show, said a legal challenge to the executive order by the DAs association was being considered.

Cuomo signed the executive order last week after state lawmakers did not pass broader criminal justice reform measures called for in the wake of a spate of incidents involving unarmed black men being killed in encounters with police.

The statewide district attorneys association has blasted the order, calling it “gravely flawed” for taking power away from the local elected officials in police-related cases.

Updated: Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera released a statement.

“The Attorney General is committed to working with the District Attorneys to implement the Executive Order in a way that ensures a thorough and fair review of any cases that arise,” he said.

In Fundraising Pitch, Schneiderman Points To Minimum Wage Efforts

A fundraising pitch from Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s re-election campaign this week pointed to his efforts to recoup lost wages for workers, tying that back to a broader effort to gain a minimum wage hike for fast-food workers.

“As your Attorney General, I am dedicated to ensuring that New York is a place with justice and equality for all,” Schneiderman’s fundraising email sent this week says. “This means fighting for those who need it most, including New York’s low wage and fast food workers. Because no one who works full-time should struggle to care for themselves and their families.”

In the email, sent Wednesday, Schneiderman points out that the wage board, convened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to study and likely recommend a pay increase for fast-food workers, was initially his idea.

Schneiderman in an op/ed in The Daily News had proposed a wage board for all workers; Cuomo convened a Department of Labor panel for the fast-food industry specifically.

“In the past four years, we have recovered more than $20.5 million for more than 17,000 workers who were cheated out of their wages by their employers, including some of the largest fast food companies in the world,” the email states. “I am fighting every day for an increase in the state’s minimum wage and successfully proposed a Wage Board to investigate wage levels in our state. And earlier this year, my office launched an investigation into “on call” practices of major retail chains to make sure that workers are being fairly compensated.”

The email comes the same week that Cuomo signed an executive order to empower Schneiderman’s office to investigate and prosecute deaths of civilians caused by interactions with law enforcement.

Schneiderman’s role in the criminal justice arena isn’t mentioned in the Wednesday email, nor is it referenced in a follow-up note to supporters that was sent Friday morning, which was released to coincide with a looming reporting deadline at the Board of Elections.

Schneiderman, a Democrat from Manhattan, has denied he is interested in running for governor in 2018 and Cuomo has signaled he plans to seek a third term.

Schneiderman won a second term last year, defeating Republican John Cahill.

Schneiderman Taps Leader For Special Investigations Unit

A day after Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved an executive order empowering his office to investigate cases in which police kill civilians, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formed a new special investigations and prosecutions unit within his office.

Schneiderman is turning to Alvin Bragg to lead the unit, which will be charged with investigating cases in which civilians die in confrontations with police.

Bragg is the current executive deputy attorney general for social justice and is a former assistant U.S. attorney from the Southern District in New York.

At a news conference unveiling the special investigations team, Schneiderman said that while his office will have the power to supersede district attorneys in police-related cases, he hopes to work with local authorities.

“We will work with local law enforcement authorities,” Schneiderman said. “We expect the cooperation of the district attorneys.”

Schneiderman had sought the power of special prosecutor since late last year after a spate of deaths of unarmed black men involving police roiled cities across the country.

Cuomo and state lawmakers could not come to an agreement on a broader package of criminal justice measures, such as changes to the grand jury system as well as a special monitor for certain police-related cases.

Cuomo had indicated to families of those who died in interactions with police that he would appoint Schneiderman special prosecutor should an agreement not be reach.

On Wednesday, Cuomo indicated that while the executive order will last for 12 months, he hopes a legislative agreement can be reached on the issue.

The order gives Schneiderman’s office the authority to investigate and prosecute cases in which police kill unarmed civilians. Cases in which civilians are killed, but may have been armed or considered dangerous could also be reviewed, but with the attorney general’s discretion.

Schneiderman at the news conference Thursday morning said he hopes his office won’t have to exercise its new authority, but is ready to do so.

“We are prepared to handle whatever comes,” he said.

Cuomo: Special Prosecutor Executive Order Coming Soon (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo later today will issue an executive order granting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman special prosecutor status in cases involving police-related deaths of unarmed civilians.

Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa in a statement says an executive order is coming “soon” as it is being finalized. Cuomo met with family members of those who died in police brutality cases today.

“The Governor had a productive meeting with the families this afternoon , and looks forward to continuing the conversation,” she said. “We are in the process of finalizing the Executive Order and the Governor looks forward to signing it soon.”

Cuomo, speaking with reporters earlier on Tuesday after signing his Enough Is Enough legislation in to law, said the passage of a more comprehensive criminal justice reform bill in Albany would have been preferable.

The measure, however, stalled at the end of the legislative session.

“We did try to get a law passed during the last session which would have made it permanent and I think could have made it better,” Cuomo said.

The executive order will provide Schneiderman with the special prosecutor powers for 12 months. Cuomo insisted he is prevented from issuing an executive order that covers a longer period of time.

The move comes after Cuomo pledged to issue the order should lawmakers not pass measures designed to change grand jury procedures and other criminal justice measures.

Cuomo had made the pledge to families of those who died during interactions with police, though some family members in recent days had pushed the governor to stick to his word after the conclusion of the legislative session.

The bill was first pushed by Cuomo in January after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a New York City police officer who killed an unarmed black man in a choke hold.

The case of Eric Garner was just one of several high-profile incidents in recent months involving police and the deaths of unarmed black civilians.

“The problem of lack of confidence or stress between certain communities is not New York alone,” Cuomo said. “We have seen this all across the country where there’s a lack of trust in the criminal justice system triggered by a particular case.”

Cuomo touted the executive order being issued as a way to restore trust in the system shaken by the police brutality cases.

“A criminal justice system doesn’t work without trust,” Cuomo said. “We will be the first state in the country to acknowledge the problem.”

Schneiderman Pledges To Handle Police Cases With Independence

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman will be appointed a special prosecutor in cases involving police-related deaths of unarmed civilians after Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers failed to reach a broader agreement on criminal justice reform measures.

Schneiderman first called on Cuomo to issue the executive order in December after a grand jury on Staten Island declined to indict a police officer in the choke hold death of Eric Garner.

Now, Cuomo will be issuing an executive order that will grant Schneiderman that power for 12 months with an eye toward potentially reaching an agreement next year.

“My office will handle these cases with the highest level of care and independence, while we continue to work with lawmakers, District Attorneys, advocates and other experts in criminal justice reform on a long-term legislative solution to this critical matter of law and policy,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “All of us who care about the great State of New York must redouble our efforts to strengthen the ties between communities and the police officers and prosecutors who devote themselves so honorably to public protection.”

The lack of an agreement comes after Assembly Democrats sought a number of measures designed to change criminal justice procedures, including a special prosecutor to handle certain cases as well as new requirements for grand jury transparency when an indictment is not issued.

Senate Republicans had always been hesitant to approve the changes and instead this year held a series of hearings on police safety, spurred in part by the assassinations of two New York City police officers.

Schneiderman, in the statement, said he was disappointed by the lack of action.

“This order was to remain in effect only until the Governor and the Legislature enacted statutory reforms to address this critical issue in a permanent and considered fashion,” he said. “I am disappointed that, six months later, we did not see such statutory action — part of a broader failure to achieve meaningful reform on a range of issues in this legislative session.”

Lawsky: DFS And AG Had ‘Good Relationship’

Outgoing Department of Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky insisted in an interview on Thursday his regulatory agency’s relationship with the state attorney general’s office is a good one.

“We’ve had a really good relationship, for the most part, with the attorney general’s office,” Lawsky said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “We try not to step on each other toes and I think that helps as well, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Lawsky is leaving the Cuomo administration at the end of this month after he became the first superintendent of the newly formed Financial Services department, which was created out of a merger between the insurance and banking departments.

The creation of the DFS in 2011 sparked some interest at the time given its purview was financial regulation and its potential to outshine the new attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, a Democratic former state senator who succeeded Andrew Cuomo.

Both Cuomo and his immediate predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, empowered the attorney general’s office through high-profile consumer and financial investigations.

The governor, more generally, is not especially close with Schneiderman. In the latest dust up, The New York Times reported Wednesday night that Cuomo’s counsel sought information from agency general counsels on the work the attorney general’s office was performing through a formal survey.

Lawsky’s DFS tenure brought billions of dollars in windfall financial settlements for the state, though Schneiderman, not to be eclipsed, focused on a nationwide mortgage settlement effort that sought reforms in the home-lending industry.

Lawsky, however, said both Cuomo and Schneiderman agree that it helps to have more cops walk the financial beat.

“We talk about it frequently,” Lawsky said. “A couple more hands on deck as I’ve heard the governor and the attorney general say is only a good thing when policing our financial markets.”