Assembly Spends More On Outside Attorneys

Add another $58,000 to the Legislature’s legal costs.

The state Assembly was approved for a contract amendment with Whiteman Osterman and Hanna LLP for outside legal aid, according to the state comptroller’s office.

Meanwhile, the comptroller’s office approved $50,000 in payments to Rossein Associates for outside counsel relating to the Assembly’s sexual harassment investigations.

An additional $10,000 to Roemer Wallens Gold & Mineaux LLP was also approved in order to pay for outside investigations as part of the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy.

Both the Senate and Assembly have increasingly relied on the use of outside legal firms and counsel to handle either sexual harassment investigations, lawsuits and the probe from the Moreland Commission To Investigate Public Corruption as lawmakers sought to quash subpoenas from the anti-corruption panel.

In non-legal related spending, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office has also approved a $894,000 revenue contract with Swank Motions Pictures, Inc. in order to gain public performance licneses in order to show movies at the state’s correctional facilities.

The state also approved a $5.2 million payment for capital upgrades at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the home of the Buffalo Bills.

Rosa Resigns, Officially

Assemblywoman Gabriella Rosa formally resigned in a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver dated June 30.

The letter, released Wednesday, comes after the Manhattan Democrat admitted to a “green card” marriage as well as making false statements during bankruptcy proceedings.

“Please know that I am very proud of the work we did together in the Assembly to make our state a more just place to live, work and do business,” Rosa wrote in the letter to Silver. “None of this could not be accomplished without your wise leadership. I thank you for your guidance and support.”

Rosa by Nick Reisman

Silver’s Outside Income Grows

Financial disclosure forms released on Wednesday show Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reported earning between $650,000 and $750,000 in his role as “of counsel” at the Manhattan personal injury law firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

The pay is a jump from last year’s disclosure, which documented he earned between $350,000 and $450,000 in 2012 at the firm.

Silver earns $120,000 as speaker of the state Assembly, which includes $79,500 in base pay and $41,500 as a stipend for his job as speaker.

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos, meanwhile, reported earning between $150,000 and $250,000 in 2013 at his law firm in Nassau County, where he is “of counsel” at Ruskin Moscou Faltischek.

The co-leader of the Senate, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, meanwhile, reported a relatively modest income at his Bronx law firm.

The filing shows Klein earned $75,000 to $100,000 in guaranteed pay and under $1,000 in interest. He also reported earning under $1,000 teaching at Mercy College. Legal work for catering companies earning him pay of between $5,000 and $20,000.

The 2011 ethics overhaul law required lawmakers to provide more specific brackets of their outside income.

Update: You can read the disclosures of state lawmakers here.

Assemblymember-silver s 2013 by Nick Reisman

Green Grades

From today’s Morning Memo:

The New York League of Conservation Voters will announce today that the state Legislature earned an overall grade of “B-” for its progress on sustainability issues for the 2014 session, which ended last month.

The NYLCV counts passage of the Community Risk and Resiliency Act as a major success this year, but is disappointed that lawmakers failed to act on the Child Safe Products Act, which would have regulated and phased out toxic chemicals in children’s products.

“The Assembly and Senate deserve credit for their work on the critical issue of climate change and adaptation,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn.

“But it is truly disappointing that the Legislature could not reach consensus on efforts to get toxic chemicals out of children’s toys and products.”

“It is hard to imagine a more fundamental responsibility for our elected officials than protecting children’s health, and Albany’s inaction means our kids are still at risk.”

The Legislature didn’t fare quite so well when it came to the issue of public health, according to the NYLCV, which gave lawmakers an overall grade of “C+” in that particular sub-category.

It earned a “B” on sustainable economic development; “B” on climate change and resiliency and “B” on natural resource protection.

These grades, which are based on votes taken (or not) on bills identified as top priority by the organization at the beginning of the session, will be factored into the NYLCV’s upcoming endorsement and PAC funding decisions as the campaign season heats up.

Manhattan Assemblywoman to Resign after Pleading Guilty to Fraud

Manhattan Assemblywoman Gabriella Rosa pleaded guilty today in federal court to two counts of fraud. Rosa represents neighborhoods in the northern tip of Manhattan, though she will resign her seat as a result of these charges.

The charges include one count of lying to immigraton authorities about her marital relationship back in 2005. The 47 year-old lawmaker also pleaded guilty to making false statements to a federal bankruptcy court in 2009.

Rosa was a newcomer to the state Assembly, elected to her seat in 2012. Before that, she served as a staffer in both the Assembly and the New York City Council

Rosa faces 10 years in prison and sentencing has been scheduled for October 3.

1st Tier 6 Rollback On Tap

Among a handful of so-called “pension sweeteners” passed in the final days of the 2014 session by both houses of the Legislature was a bill that would be the first rollback of Tier 6 – a pension reform championed and touted by the Cuomo administration.

In a CapTon interview that will air this evening at 8 p.m. and 11:30 p.m., the Empire Center’s EJ McMahon flagged the bill and sounded a note of caution for the governor.

According to McMahon, one of the key reforms of Tier 6 was to end early retirement for public employees, in which workers could retire as young as 55 after 30 years on the job and not see a reduction in their pensions.

But this bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Marty Golden, of Brooklyn, would restore the 55/30 standard for all unionized members of the unified court system, and also reduce the retirement age from 63 to 62.

This was a favor for the state’s 4,000 unionized court officers, who argued that they need early retirement because their job is uniquely stressful.

“That’s something everyone in every occupation would claim on a bad day,” McMahon noted, adding that if the governor signs this bill into law, it will set a bad precedent and endanger the modest reforms represented by Tier 6.

“Here’s the pattern of undoing previous so-called pension reforms going back 30 years,” McMahon said.

“One union starts the landslide. They get it undone – like the loose thread on a sweater. And then everybody comes up and says, ‘Well, they got this, we should have it, too. If the governor signs this, the other pieces will fall off in due order.”

McMahon also noted with distaste that this bill passed – as these things tend to do – “like greased lightning” on the session’s final scheduled day (June 19th) with no debate whatsoever.

Assembly Approves Medical Marijuana By A Wide Margin

The Democratic-led Assembly approved the legalization of medical marijuana in the early hours of Friday morning by a wide margin, 117-13.

Several Republicans voted in favor of the measure introduced Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

The Assembly last month passed a different version of the bill then known as the Compassionate Care Act, 93-36.

The bill is expected to be considered by the state Senate today.

230574446 Assembly Medical Marijuana Vote by Nick Reisman

Camara: Patent Office Made The Right Move In Rejecting ‘Redskins’ Trademark

The sponsor of a resolution in the state Assembly calling on the Washington Redskins football team to change its name is happy to see the U.S. Patent Office reject the trademarking of the team’s name.

“The message that the Federal Government is sending is clear,” said Brooklyn Democratic Assemblyman Karim Camara. “The term ‘redsk*n’ is a racially derogatory, offensive term and it has no place in today’s society. Since football is a sport that has deep roots in American culture, allowing this slur to be used as a mascot sends the wrong message about who we are as a country.”

State lawmakers introduced the resolution earlier in the year, comparing the effort to change the team’s name to the NBA’s ouster of Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling following racially charged comments.

Earlier in the day, the Oneida Indian Nation also released a statement celebrating the move.

Indian tribes, especially the Oneidas, and other groups have been pushing the team to change its name.

“The U.S. Patent Office has now restated the obvious truth that Native Americans, civil rights leaders, athletes, religious groups, state legislative bodies, Members of Congress and the president have all echoed: taxpayer resources cannot be used to help private companies profit off the promotion of dictionary defined racial slurs,” said Oneida Indian Nation Representative Ray Halbritter and NCAI Executive Director Jackie Pata in a joint statement. “If the most basic sense of morality, decency and civility has not yet convinced the Washington team and the NFL to stop using this hateful slur, then hopefully today’s patent ruling will, if only because it imperils the ability of the team’s billionaire owner to keep profiting off the denigration and dehumanization of Native Americans.”

Kellner Blasts Silver’s Latest Penalties, Denies New Allegations

Assemblyman Micah Kellner blasted the decision by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to impose stricter penalties on the lawmaker in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal and vehemently denied that he violated the terms of a set of December sanctions.

Silver earlier on Wednesday announced he was accepting the recommendations made by the Assembly Ethics Committee, which include new sanctions imposed on Kellner, including the closing of his Albany and district offices, as well as phasing out his staff allocation to zero.

Kellner has fought against the penalties first imposed in December, and in a statement said he would “appeal the decision immediately” even as he is due to leave the Assembly by the end of the year.

And Kellner blasted Silver’s decision to impose the latest round of sanctions following allegations last year he harassed Assembly staffers.

“Speaker Silver’s decision to close my offices is a classic example of the politics of personal destruction,” Kellner said. “Because I have exercised my right to appeal the sanctions he has imposed, an appeal in which the arbiter appointed by the Speaker has determined that I am entitled to due process and to see the evidence presented against me – a ruling that the Assembly has so far defied – new charges have now been trumped up against me.”

Kellner points to the Assembly accusing him of “new allegations” in May that he violated the terms of the December agreement that he took on new legislative interns as well as sexually harassed another employee.

“It is no coincidence that these new and unsubstantiated accusations only came to light after Speaker Silver and the Ethics Committee were handed an overwhelming defeat by his own hand-picked hearing officer, Howard Levine, in the initial decision of May 12th on my appeal,” Kellner said.

Kellner set along a series of letters and emails between his attorney and the state Assembly.

Kellner, who lost his city council race last year after the initial set of allegations broke, says his constituents in his Manhattan Assembly district are on the losing end of the latest penalties.

“What is most deplorable is that the Speaker continues to punish the residents of the Upper East Side, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island, first by withholding community grants for legitimate vetted organizations, and now by denying them the resources of my office, which assists New Yorkers from all walks of life every day,” Kellner said.

kellnerlevineletter5-20-14 by Nick Reisman

Silver Slaps Kellner Again

After informing reporters that a revised policy for handling sexual harassment cases has been completed, Assembly Speaker Silver announced this afternoon that he has again admonished and disciplined scandal-scarred Assemblyman Micah Kellner for failing to adhere to a no-intern rule instituted following an investigation that found he sexually harassed members of his staff.

Silver said he is fully implementing the recommendations of the Assembly Ethics and Guidance Committee, which called for further sanctions against Kellner after he was found to have violated the terms of a Dec. 30, 2013 Letter of Admonition that directed him not to have interns in his office.

The committee also found that Kellner, an Upper East Side Democrat who has been fighting the initial sanctions lodged against him, attempted to obstruct a climate survey mandated by the Dec. 30 letter and engaged in additional sexual harassment beyond the matters that were the subject of the 2013 investigation.

As a result, Silver will reduce Kellner’s staff allocation to 0 at the end of June, and also has directed that the assemblyman’s Albany and district offices be closed. In addition, Silver said he admonishes and severely reprimands Kellner on behalf of his Assembly colleagues and declared “that his conduct with respect to these matters violates the Assembly’s policies on sexual harassment and is inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which Members of the Assembly should be held.”

Silver’s actions are a bit moot, since Kellner will be leaving office at the end of the year. He lost a bid for the NYC Council last year, and then announced in February that he wouldn’t be seeking re-election to his Assembly seat, either. The NY Observer recently reported that Kellner may run for an obscure state committee post in an effort to re-start his stalled political career.

Speaker Silver admonishes Assemblyman Kellner – again. by liz_benjamin6490