Attorney General

AG’s Office Settles With Hospitals That Charged Rape Victims For Exams

Seven New York hospitals illegally billed survivors and victims of rape for forensic examinations at least 200 times at seven different hospitals, according to a settlement announced Thursday by Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office.

The hospitals, Brookdale University Hospital Medical Center, Columbia University, Montefiore Nyack Hospital, New York Presbyterian/Brooklyn Methodist Hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Richmond University Medical Center, and St. Barnabas Hospital, will have to put in place written policies to ensure those who have been raped or sexually assaulted do not receive bills for examinations or pay any costs.

“Survivors of sexual assault have already gone through unfathomable trauma; to then subject them to illegal bills and collection calls is unconscionable,” Underwood said. “Hospitals have a fundamental responsibility to comply with New York law. My office will continue to do everything in our power to protect survivors and their rights.”

The investigation began after a survivor was billed seven times for a forensic examination that was administered at Brooklyn Hospital’s emergency room, prompting a statewide review of bill practices at other hospitals.

The bills ranged from $46 to $3,000. The investigation found hospitals had failed to inform patients of proper payment options.

“We commend Attorney General Underwood for taking this critical step in ending the unlawful practice of billing rape survivors for their Forensic Rape Examinations,” said Sonia Ossorio, the president of the National Organization for Women – New York. “It is of the utmost importance that survivors are given every tool and support possible to come forward, report the crime if that is what they wish to do, and to lower any barriers to reporting.”

The AG’s office can be contacted regarding billing complaints at 1-800-428-9071.

Underwood Issues Supplementary Guidance For Sanctuary Communities

Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office on Wednesday issued a supplementary legal guidance for local governments that have been designated sanctuary communities for undocumented immigrants.

The guidance comes after this month’s appellate court decision that determined New York law bars state and local law enforcement agents from attest people for civil immigration violations.

The ruling has been consistent with previous guidance offered in 2017 by the attorney general’s office, which had been released as the federal government was expected to shift its policies toward sanctuary communities.

“The Second Department’s decision underscores the fact that New York law does not authorize state and local law enforcement to arrest individuals for civil immigration violations,” Underwood said.

“As our guidance details, the federal government simply does not have the authority to transform state and local police into federal immigration agents. Protecting public safety goes hand in hand with building trust with immigrant communities, and we’ll continue to give New York localities the tools they need to protect vulnerable immigrant communities and help ensure all New Yorkers’ safety.”

The updated guidance van be found here.

Underwood Amicus Brief Challenges Whitaker Appointment

Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Monday filed a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting U.S. attorney general by President Donald Trump.

The brief is part of a Maryland case challenging the recess appointment by Trump being brought by a coalition of 15 attorneys general, including Underwood.

“The law is clear – and Matthew Whitaker’s appointment as Acting Attorney General is illegal, violating long-standing rules,” Underwood said in a statement. “Our coalition of Attorneys General will continue to do what’s necessary to protect the rule of law.”

The brief is in support of a motion that seeks to block Whitaker from exercising authority as the U.S. attorney general or to substitute deputy AG Rod Rosenstein as the defendant in an ongoing case between Maryland and the federal government over the Affordable Care Act.

The brief, along with New York, was backed by attorneys general in Pennsylvania, the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Washington.

AG Report: Professional Fundraisers Pocket A Third Of Donations

Nearly a third of money given to charitable causes and organizations are pocketed by professional fundraisers, according to a report released Monday by Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office.

The annual report, published ahead of Giving Tuesday, assesses New York charities, their spending and how their donation money is spent.

“New Yorkers are generous in their charitable giving – and they should know how their dollars are being spent,” Underwood said. “Too often, a large percentage of charitable dollars are pocketed by outside fundraisers rather than going to the cause itself. I urge all New Yorkers to be careful, and to report suspicious entities to my office.”

New Yorkers in 2017 gave nearly $1.2 billion in charitable gifts to 964 fundraising campaigns that were conducted by professional fundraisers. The charities netted $812 million, while fundraisers who helped raise the money received $372 million.

Professional fundraisers are regulated in New York and must register with the attorney general’s office. They must provide financial reporting breaking down the revenue raised and the expenses generated by a campaign.

The full report can be found here.

James Announces Top Staff

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

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

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

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

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

No Criminal Charges For Schneiderman

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wofford Endorsed by Construction Group

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

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

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

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

Wofford Says Senate Must Take Kavanaugh Allegations Seriously

From the Morning Memo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What You Need To Know About The AG’s Race

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

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

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

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

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

So who is running?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The general election is Nov. 6.