Eric Schneiderman

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 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.

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.”

Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party May Not Be Legal

A technical glitch has emerged in the formation of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Party that could open the newfound political organization to legal challenges if it seeks to operate in next year’s elections.

Last week, documents were quietly filed with the state Board of Elections to formally constitute the party, which was created in 2014 when Cuomo won just over 50,000 votes on its line – the required threshold to qualify for ballot status for the next four years.

The documents named three of the party’s top five officers, including former DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala, a Democrat and ex-Broome County executive, as interim chair, but left the positions of vice chair and treasurer blank.

Cuomo and LG Kathy Hochul – both of whom ran on the WEP line last fall – signed the documents, which is where the trouble starts.

A spokesman for the state Board of Elections confirmed that Section 6-128, Subdivision 4 of the state Election Law requires a “majority” of the candidates who ran on a party’s line agree on the rules of that party.

AG Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also ran on the WEP line last year, but neither of their signatures appear on the documents on file with the board.

Spokespeople for both the AG and the comptroller confirmed that neither had signed off on the WEP’s rules and interim leadership, but declined to provide any additional information – like whether they had been formally asked to sign, or why they decided not to.

It would take three signatures – not two – to constitute a majority of WEP candidates. So, technically speaking, the party’s rules and structure are not legal.

This could provide fodder for anyone – say, the Republicans – seeking to challenge actions (like endorsements?) taken by the WEP in the next election cycle.

Also worth noting: Becoming a leader of a party requires that an individual change his or her registration to become a member of that party, which, presumably, Fiala et al have done or are planning to do soon.

This requirement may have served as an impediment to former NYC Council Speaker Chris Quinn taking on a leadership role with the WEP, which she spearheaded during the 2014 elections on Cuomo’s behalf.

“Christine Quinn has always been – and always will be – a Democrat,” a spokesman told Capital NY last November.

Quinn is now serving as an advisor to Cuomo, earning $1 a year.

Cuomo’s decision to create a women-specific party was a divisive move that was criticized by some female Democrats as a craven political effort to maximize support among a key voting bloc.

Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, called creation of the WEP a “mistake” that could marginalize women voters and perhaps draw votes away from the Senate Democratic candidates at a time when they were trying to re-take the majority – an effort with which Cuomo was supposed to be helping, not undermining.

It was not lost on observers that “WEP” is just one letter off from “WFP”, which stands for the Working Families Party – a liberal and labor-backed organization with which the governor is often at odds.

After much upheaval, and despite the fact that Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Fordham Law Prof. Zephyr Teachout, also sought the line, the WFP endorsed Cuomo’s re-election bid last year. Had Cuomo attracted less than 50,000 votes on the WFP – due, in part, to confusion with the WEP also on the ballot – the party would have lost its ballot line and official status for four years.

That did not happen in the end, much to the relief of WFP officials and their supporters.

The WEP was ostensibly created by the governor to highlight women’s issues – particularly his 10-point Women’s Equality Act, which was opposed in its entirety by Senate Republicans due to the presence of an abortion-rights plank.

This year, Assembly Democrats decided to follow the Senate Republicans’ lead and break the act into free-standing bills, nine of which – minus the abortion piece – were passed by the Legislature without much fanfare or controversy. At least one has already been signed into law.

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.”

Schneiderman Knocks ‘Opaque’ Albany Process

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a radio interview on Monday knocked the “opaque” process in the end-stage negotiations on the extension of rent control and the renewal of the 421a tax abatement.

In the interview with Susan Arbetter on The Capitol Pressroom, Schneiderman said he was opposed to straight extension of both rent control and 421a and that both measures need to be reformed.

At the same time, Schneiderman knocked the push to link the education tax credit to the strengthening of rent control, a move that’s backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“Everyone has known they’re expiring for years by these deadlines and the idea that they can’t get this done, I think this is the old Albany,” Schneiderman said. “This is opaque, anti-democratic, and I agree with the Assembly speaker who spoke about rent, rent regulations, that is an important issue for millions of people and it should stand all on its own. It shouldn’t be linked to the school tax credit or something like that, people should have to take a position on this and vote for it.”

Deal making at the end of the legislative session isn’t new and often disparate issues are linked together in a final compromise.

But Assembly Democrats have been especially vocal about tying both the tax credit — which is backed by private and parochial school supporters and opposed by the teachers unions — to expanding or enhancing rent control, which is opposed by Senate Republicans.

Schneiderman, a former state senator, believes all should be handled separately.

“In what universe is it good public policy to have, you know, 4 or 5 or 6 different things that are unrelated tied together in a package so that a legislator can say look, I really didn’t want to do that bill, wouldn’t have gotten this bill that I liked,” he said. “So, it gives them an excuse for voting and for breaking promises to their constituents and for voting in ways different than they claim to want to. I think that rent should stand on its own. It’s ridiculous that we don’t have good legislation out there; they’ve had plenty of time for 421a. And the school tax credit issue should be taken up separately as well.”

Schneiderman Unveils Ethics Package

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman outlined a broad ethics and campaign finance overhaul proposal on Wednesday by introducing legislation that would change much of how the Legislature does business.

Schneiderman unveiled the omnibus package at the Tweed Courthouse in New York City — the same spot in which Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched his 2011 campaign for governor and promised to rid the Capitol of public corruption.

Since then, the parade of state lawmakers led out in handcuffs continues unabated.

Schneiderman’s omnibus package would:

  • Ban outside income of state lawmakers, save for payment from military service, royalties or pension income from previous employment
  • Ban per diem and switch to a reimbursement system
  • Give the attorney general’s office the jurisdiction to prosecute public corruption
  • Create new crime for undisclosed self-dealing such as using an official position to enrich oneself and strengthens anti-bribery laws
  • Shift the Legislature from a two-year term to a four-year term
  • Creates a 6-to-1 public donor matching system for political campaigns and caps matching funds for a candidate to receive in primary and general elections
  • Lowers political giving limits for candidates both in and out of the public financing system, with a statewide cap of $5,000 for the primary and general elections each.
  • Ends the practice of unlimited giving through limited liability companies and eliminates housekeeping or “soft money” accounts
  • Enacts lobbying reforms that would ban lobbyists from seeking donations for a public official or party and lowers the cap on personal contributions from a lobbyist to $250.
  • Adds clothing and tuition payments to the list of banned items that can be spent using campaign funds

Schneiderman had previously announced in an op/ed in The Times Union posted online Tuesday he would introduce the legislation this week.

At the moment, there appears to be very little appetite for passing new ethics legislation at the Capitol, despite the arrests of both legislative leaders this session in separate corruption cases (The arrest of now former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver did lead to new disclosure requirements for outside legal clients as well as curtailing some uses of campaign money).

Still, the measure is winning praise from good-government reform organizations upset that the needle does not seem to be moving much on ethics reform in the waning days of the session.

“The corruption we’re seeing in New York State government takes power from the hands of regular New Yorkers and taints the honorable work being done by the lion’s share of public officials. New Yorkers have had enough of so-called ethics reform that tinkers around the edges—what we need now is bold reform that gets to the root of corruption, equips law enforcement with the tools needed to fight it, and professionalizes our state legislature,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “It’s time to end the parade of prosecutions and restore people’s faith in their government.”

Schneiderman Denies Interest In Running For Governor

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a statement on Monday insisted he isn’t planning a run for governor in 2018.

At the same time, Schneiderman said he had “no interest” in challenging incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo and will run for re-election as attorney general instead.

“Being able take on powerful interests in order to protect New Yorkers is the greatest job I’ve ever had and my plan for 2018 is to run for re-election. I am not thinking about or planning to run for Governor, and I have no interest in challenging an incumbent Democratic governor who shares my views on virtually every issue.”

The statements comes the same day as The Daily News reported Schneiderman is considering running for governor when the office is open again in 2018.

Cuomo earlier today strongly suggested he would be seeking a third term as governor.

Cuomo and Schneiderman are said to have a frosty personal relationship at best and the two have tangled over a variety of issues, including the power to go after public corruption (Cuomo later gave Schneiderman a role in deputizing members of the Moreland Commission).

Schneiderman has taken a more assertive approach in dealing with Cuomo this year and nudged him both pushing for a stronger ethics package with the Legislature as well as suspending an email deletion program.

Schneiderman, a former state senator, was first elected attorney general in 2010 and defeated Republican John Cahill for re-election.

The attorney general remains popular with liberals and other left-leaning advocates. Cuomo, meanwhile, continues to be broadly popular, but faces skepticism from liberal advocacy organizations.