Eric Schneiderman

Minus Two Staffers for Schneiderman (Updated)

AG Eric Schneiderman is starting the new year with a couple of holes to fill on his staff.

The DN’s Ken Lovett reported this morning that Andrew Friedman, who has served as Schneiderman’s deputy communications director for less than two years, is departing to take a job at the influential political consulting firm BerlinRosen. Friedman started his new job today at the New York City-based firm, which has strong ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Shortly after noon, the Albany-based lobbying and law firm Malkin & Ross announced that another Schneiderman staffer, Justin Berhaupt, has jumped ship to join its ranks. Berhaupt, an Albany Law School grad and Delmar resident, had served as the AG’s legislative advisor.

While working for Schneiderman, Berhaupt , who is also a former Assembly staffer and Senate counsel, was the strategist behind I-STOP – the real-time database of controlled substance prescriptions as a means to reduce addiction and diversion – and the Nonprofit Revitalization Act of 2013, which reformed and modernized the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law for the first time since the 1970’s.

“Justin’s knowledge of the Legislature will be invaluable to our clients, as well as his experience in private law practice and on the campaign trail,” said Artie Malkin, co-founder of M&R.

Both BerlinRosen and Malkin & Ross (or M&R, as it’s also known), are generally Democrat-leaning firms, which represent “progressive” candidates, issues and elected officials.

UPDATE: The AG only has one hole to fill – the one left by Friedman’s departure. Kate Powers, who spent the past four years as legislative director for Department of Financial Services Superintendent Benjamin Lawsky, is replacing Berhaupt.

Cuomo Meets With Jay Z – And Talks To Russell Simmons – On Criminal Justice Reform (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday met with rapper and record producer Jay Z to discuss potential reforms to the state’s criminal justice system, a spokeswoman confirmed.

“Governor Cuomo and Shawn “JAY Z” Carter had a productive conversation about doing a top to bottom review of the Criminal Justice system and how we can all work together to pass a reform package that ensures equality in the eyes of the law,” said Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa.

The meeting comes as Cuomo has said he supports potential reforms to the grand jury process in the state and the criminal justice system as well as new police training.

Cuomo plans to push for these measures after a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict a New York City police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, setting off a wave of protests in New York City and around the country.

Cuomo has said he wants to perform a “soup to nuts” review of the criminal justice system.

Governors meeting with rappers-turned-moguls is not unprecedented.

In 2003, then-Gov. George Pataki met privately with Russell Simmons, the co-founder of the Def Jam record label in order to discuss changes to the state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws.

UPDATE: Apparently, Jay Z wasn’t the only music industry bigwig Cuomo has been chatting with about the Garner case and its fallout. DeRosa has issued another statement effectively confirming a New York Observer report that the governor also spoke with Simmons about this issue, though she didn’t address the hip hop mogul’s claim that Cuomo pledged during their conversation to soon issue an executive order appointing a special prosecutor to handle alleged police abuse cases.

“Governor Cuomo has said he wants a comprehensive review of the current criminal justice system and has been talking with interested parties to discuss just that,” DeRosa said. “Over the last week, he has personally spoken with members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus, PBA President Pat Lynch, community activists including Russell Simmons and Shawn ‘Jay Z’ Carter, and district attorneys from across the state and looks forward to continuing this dialogue with additional stakeholders in the coming days and weeks.”

Simmons also said that he and other advocates also met with AG Eric Schneiderman to ask him to bring an indictment against Pantaleo. Earlier this week, Schneiderman called on the governor to issue an executive order giving the AG’s office the power to investigate and prosecute unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers. The AG said he only wants that power temporarily – until the governor and legislative leaders reach an agreement on permanent reform package.

Abinanti Drafts AG-Only Police Misconduct Investigation Bill

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti is taking state AG Eric Schneiderman’s call for temporary power to investigate unarmed civilian deaths at the hands of police officers one step further.

The Westchester County Democrat said he’s drafting legislation that would give the AG’s office exclusive jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute all alleged crimes by police officers whether or not in connection with the performance of their regular duties.

“There is an appearance of a conflict of interest – if not an inherent actual conflict of interest – every time a local district attorney is called on to handle a matter against a local police officer with whom the DA must work in the normal course of their duties,” Abinanti said in a press release. “The present law giving the governor discretion to take matters from a local DA and give it to the attorney general is not enough.”

Abinanti’s announcement comes one day after Schneiderman sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeking an executive order that would give the automtically make the AG a special prosecutor in instances like the death of Eric Garner following a chokehold administered by an NYPD officer until such time that the governor and legislative leaders agree on permanent statutory reforms.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, a Harlem Democrat and former co-chair of the state Democratic Party, been pushing the Legislature to afford the AG jurisdiction over cases of police misconduct since 1999. The measure has been passed multiple times by the Assembly, but has never been taken up by the Senate.

Wright’s bill is sponsored in the Senate by Bronx Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera.

In his letter to the governor, Schneiderman references a similar measure, applicable only to offenses allegedly committed by New York City police officers, that was recently introduced by Brooklyn Sen. Kevin Parker. And there’s also another bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Nick Perry, also of Brooklyn, which would allow a judge to appoint another DA or AG to act as a “special district attorney” in criminal matters where the judge finds that the county prosecutor is “disqualified.”

Cuomo’s press office said yesterday that Schneiderman’s request is under review.

Schneiderman Wants Power To Probe Deaths By Police

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman formally requested on Monday the “interim” power to investigate and pursue deaths of unarmed civilians by police officers, a move that requires approval from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The power to investigate such cases would be a temporary move and be “prospective” to future incidents and not cover the circumstances surrounding the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man killed after he was put in a chokehold by a police officer.

Instead, Schneiderman said at a news conference in New York City that the move would apply some pressure to Albany lawmakers potentially opposed to criminal justice reforms as laid out by Cuomo last week.

Senate Republicans are signaling opposition to potential changes to the grand jury procedure such as potential appointments of special prosecutors in certain cases as well as enhanced transparency.

“This crisis of confidence is long in the making and has deep roots. But it is not a problem without a solution,” Schneiderman wrote in a letter sent to Cuomo, dated Monday. “A common thread in many of these cases is the belief of the victim’s family and others that the investigation of the death, and the decision whether to prosecute, have been improperly and unfairly influenced by the close working relationship between the county District Attorney and the police officers he or she works with and depends on every day. It is understandable that many New Yorkers feel that it is unfair to charge a local District Attorney with the task of investigating and prosecuting those officers when they are accused of a serious crime committed in the course of their duties.”

The attorney general’s request to be granted the power to investigate deaths comes after elected officials and advocates have pointed to potential conflicts of interest by Staten Island prosecutors in the grand jury proceedings.

Schneiderman was joined at a news conference flanked by a host of New York City elected officials, including Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.

The attorney general stressed that his request to probe deaths caused by police officers of unarmed civilians was not meant as a criticism of either district attorneys or law enforcement.

“This is not anti-DA, this is certainly not anti-NYPD,” Schneiderman said. “I have the highest respect for them.”

He added that Staten Island District Dan Donovan, whose office presented evidence to the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in Garner’s death, is “a friend.” Donovan and Schneiderman ran against each other for attorney general in 2010.

The request also comes after Cuomo declined over the summer to appoint a special prosecutor in the Garner case despite calls from minority lawmakers in new York City.

The attorney general today said his request was aimed at addressing — and calling attention to — the shortcomings in the current grand jury procedures.

“There is a problem that the state of the law even where DAs are not allowed to request that somebody replace them,” Schneiderman said.

Schneiderman to Cuomo 12-08-14 by Nick Reisman

AG Backs Legislative Pay Raises

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has endorsed a pay raise for his former colleagues in the state Legislature, provided that they also approve reforms to the per diem system that has proved too easy for corrupt lawmakers to scam.

“I think the Legislature, after 15 years, hasn’t had a pay raise, and I think it’s perfectly reasonable to do,” Schneiderman said during a Capital Tonight interview last night. “But I think it should be accompanied by reforms to the system.”

“If you think about the per diem system, this is in addition to travel expenses, this is not just travel expenses,” the AG continued. “This is something else that you get every day…There’s incentives to stay away from your district where your constituents are and stay in Albany.”

“It’s sort of a weird system. It struck me as strange when I first got up there, and it strikes me as a little bit strange today. So, I would like to see reforms of the system.”

Schneiderman, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, was a state senator prior to his election to the AG’s office in 2010. He succeeded Andrew Cuomo, who ascended to the governor’s office that year.

Schneiderman was elected to the Senate in 1998, defeating Danny O’Donnell (then a civil rights attorney, now a state assemblyman) in a Democratic primary.

That was the same year legislators did a deal with then-GOP Gov. George Pataki that raised their base pay by 38 percent to its current level ($79,500) in exchange for agreeing to forgo their paychecks in the event of late budgets and the creation of charter schools in New York.

The pay raise took effect in January of 1999, since, technically speaking, sitting lawmakers cannot vote to increase their own pay.

They can, however, give raises to members of the incoming Legislature, which, thanks to Albany’s high re-election rate for incumbents, looks a lot like the Legislature that preceded it.

This year, both Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos have expressed a willingness to consider per diem system reforms along with legislative pay raises.

There’s talk lawmakers could return to Albany for a special session in December, though there have been no formal negotiations to speak of, and Cuomo hasn’t yet made clear what – if anything – he’s willing to trade legislative leaders in exchange for signing off on a pay raise.

Abuse of the per diem system has landed a number of state lawmakers in hot water over the years, the most recent of which is Assemblyman William Scarborough, a Queens Democrat who was arrested in October on charges he sought reimbursement for nonexistent travel expenses.

Schneiderman said last night that “it should be clear at this point that my office and other prosecutors are never going to turn a blind eye to these abuses any more.”

“I think you’re seeing more aggressive pursuit by the attorney generals office and other prosecutors of issues related to public corruption than you’ve ever seen before,” the AG said. “And that’s not going to stop until the culture changes.”

Wiesner, Again, Facing Bid Rigging Indictment from Grand Jury

Robert Wiesner, husband of Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, has once again been indicted on bid rigging charges relating to the county’s local development corporations.

Wiesner was one of four men indicted last fall on a 25 count indictment including charges for bid rigging and money laundering involving Upstate Telecommunications Corporation.

One charge was eventually dropped against Wiesner in August of this year, but the judge said at the time he would allow prosecutors to present evidence to a new grand jury on another charge.

Wiesner’s attorney, James Nobles, had argued to have both charges dropped because Wiesner did not have the chance to testify before the first grand jury.

But in a written decision, the judge said the charge relating to bid-rigging can go back to a grand jury.

That brings us to today.

Wiesner is again facing bid-rigging charges related to a multi-hundred million dollar county project to upgrade certain emergency communication systems.

According to the Attorney General’s office, the indictment reads:

The Grand Jury of the County of Monroe, by this Indictment, accuses the defendant of the crime of COMBINATION IN RESTRAINT OF TRADE AND COMPETITION, in violation of General Business Law Sections 340 and 341, committed as follows:

The defendant, from in or around March 2008 to in or around October 2013, in the County of Monroe, acting in concert with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, knowingly and intentionally entered into and engaged in and continued to engage in a contract, agreement, arrangement, and combination in unreasonable restraint of combination and the free exercise of activity in the conduct of business, trade, and commerce, specifically, to restrain competition in the bidding process of Monroe County for the Public Safety Contract, by means of bid rigging.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman released a statement today on the indictment, saying:

“I welcome the grand jury’s decision to re-indict Robert Wiesner on a felony charge stemming from the joint investigation my office conducted with Comptroller DiNapoli into allegations of bid rigging in Monroe County. We look forward to bringing this matter to trial.”

Debate Deconstruction

If you didn’t catch last night’s TWC News/NY1 debate in Hamburg between the two major party candidates for state attorney general – the only time they’ll face off before next Tuesday’s election – you missed quite the show.

It was a verbal slap-fest between Democratic incumbent Eric Schneiderman and his GOP opponent, former Pataki administration official John Cahill, with the two trading barbs over everything from ethics and campaign contributors to abortion rights and gun control.

As has been widely reported, I had a tough time controlling these two, who were more interested in talking over one another and getting their jabs in than answering questions posed by myself and the members of our panel.

We did, however, manage to learn some key information during our lightning round, such as the fact that Cahill doesn’t appear to know what BuzzFeed is, and has never taken one of the site’s infamous quizzes, whereas Schneiderman has (though he didn’t elaborate, so we’ll never know which Weasley he is).

For the record, Cahill is a quick study. He Tweeted a photo of himself “catching up on BuzzFeed quizzes” at a Buffalo-area bar after the debate.

We also know that when Schneiderman finishes up another stressful day at the AG’s office, he likes to kick his feet up and unwind with a nice historical drama film – preferably about WW II.

Schneiderman revealed the last movie he watched was “Diplomacy,” a Franco-German film that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival last February. It was directed by Volker Schlöndorff and adapted from the play Diplomatie by Cyril Gely.

Cahill also has a taste for historical dramas. He said the last movie he saw was “Lincoln” – the 2012 film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis as the nation’s 16th president.

If you want to learn more about the candidates – their likes and dislikes, habits, and even a little on policy – you can catch the full debate here.

Thanks again to both candidates for participating, to our panel members for their insightful (if not always answered) questions, to Hilbert College for hosting and to our live audience members for (mostly) following my instructions to hold their applause until after the debate was over.

NOW-NYS Gives Late Nod To Schneiderman

The National Organization for Women New York State (NOW-NYS) is poised to announce its support today for Democratic state AG Eric Schneiderman, saying he has been an “incredibly strong defender of women’s rights.”

“From introducing the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act, to expanding clinic buffer zones, to investigating so-called ‘crisis pregnancy centers’, Eric has taken on tough fights for the women of New York State,” said NOW-NYS President Zenaida Mendez.

“Meanwhile his opponent has an extreme anti-choice record that’s simply wrong for New York. That is why NOW-NYS is proudly supporting Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s re-election.”

This is a continuation of a theme that Schneiderman and his allies have kept up throughout the campaign – that Republican AG candidate John Cahill, a practicing Catholic who personally opposes abortion, is too extreme to be the state’s top attorney.

Cahill has repeatedly said that despite his personal beliefs, he will uphold and defend all of New York’s laws if he’s elected on Nov. 4.

To bolster the NOW-NYS endorsement, Schneiderman’s campaign is releasing a new online video that features young women slamming Cahill for his opposition to abortion rights and what they deem his “anti-choice” record while serving as a top official in the administration of former GOP Gov. George Pataki.

Pataki, for the record, is a moderate Republican who at times got into hot water with conservative supporters by describing his own position on abortion as “pro-choice.”

However, he has said he opposes the abortion-rights plank in Cuomo’s 10-point Women’s Equality Act, which Cahill also does not support.

Siena Poll: Hawkins Could Eat Into Cuomo’s Final Tally

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to hold a double-digit lead over his Republican opponent, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, with less than two weeks to go before Election Day, according to a Siena College poll released this morning.

The poll found Cuomo leading Astorino, 54-33, with Green Party candidate Howie Hawkins receiving 9 percent of the vote.

The result is a slight dip for Cuomo from the previous month, when Siena College found the governor leading Astorino 56-27, with Hawkins at 7 percent.

With Hawkins gaining some ground in the polls, it’s possible the Green Party candidate can eat into a chunk of Cuomo’s overall total come Election Day.

“If Hawkins does that well on Election Day – something third party candidates often don’t do – then it will almost certainly make this year’s race closer than four years ago and keep Cuomo well below his total vote from 2010,” said Siena College pollster Steve Greenberg.

Cuomo received 63 percent of the vote against Republican Carl Paladino in 2010.

Hawkins is a proven vote getter for the Green Party. He received more than 50,000 votes in 2010 to give the party automatic ballot status this election.

Hawkins is hoping to tap into liberal dissatisfaction with Cuomo, and gain some of the supporters of Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran a surprisingly strong primary challenge to the governor in September.

Still, the poll shows Cuomo blowing out Astorino in New York City, where he leads 72-16. He also has the support of 79 percent of self-identified liberal voters.

Upstate, Cuomo’s lead is smaller: He leads Astorino 47-38.

The race is closest in the suburban counties, where it is a virtual tie. Cuomo is actually trailing Astorino 44-46.

And the governor, who has pushed hard on his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, leads Astorino among female voters 65 percent to 25 percent, according to the poll’s crosstabs.

Cuomo has a favorability rating of 54 percent, compared to 43 percent of voters who do not have a favorable view of him – the highest unfavorable rating he’s garnered from Siena to date.

Astorino, a first-time statewide candidate, continues to show a high negative rating: 41 percent of voters have an unfavorable view of him, compared to 32 percent who view him favorably.

In the other statewide races, Democratic AG Eric Schneiderman holds a 20-point lead over his Republican challenger, John Cahill, 55-35. Schneiderman’s lead grew by 5 percentage points from last month – likely thanks to the fact that the AG is now running TV ads.

Meanwhile, in the race for state comptroller, incumbent Democrat Tom DiNapoli leads Republican Onondaga County Comptroller 58-31 – the largest gap of the three statewide races.

The poll of 748 likely voters was conducted from Oct. 16 through Oct. 20. It has a margin of error of 3.6 percentage points.

SNY1014 Crosstabs by Nick Reisman

Gillibrand Emails For Schneiderman

AG Eric Schneiderman is getting a boost in the final weeks of the general election campaign from New York’s junior US senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, who says a win by the Republicans next month would be “simply unacceptable.”

An email blast going out later this morning focuses on abortion rights – a wedge issue the Democratic candidates from Gov. Andrew Cuomo on down are again using to blast their GOP opponents in this Democrat-dominated state.

Gillibrand calls Schneiderman a “lifelong pro-choice advocate” and “the ONLY (her emphasis) candidate for Attorney General who represents the values of New York women, especially when it comes to reproductive rights.”

“As a public interest lawyer, Eric defended reproductive health clinic workers,” the senator wrote. “As a state senator, he led efforts to pass the Clinic Anti-Violence Act and a law requiring emergency contraception to be made available to victims of sexual assault.”

“As attorney general, he successfully fought to protect and expand buffer zones around health clinics so that families would be safe from intimidation and harassment.”

“And in response to the Supreme Court’s troubling Hobby Lobby ruling this year, Eric proposed the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act to force employers to disclose to women if they plan to change their contraception coverage.”

“We need an attorney general who unequivocally supports a woman’s right to choose, and Eric is the only candidate in this race who meets that basic standard.”

Schneiderman’s Republican challenger, former Pataki administration official John Cahill, is a practicing Catholic who is personally opposed to abortion and has expressed opposition to the abortion rights plank of Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act.

But Cahill has also pledged to uphold the law regarding abortion if he’s elected attorney general on Nov. 4, as well as any other potentially controversial laws – including same-sex marriage.

Gillibrand’s email does not specifically mention Cahill by name.