Why Did Spitzer Defend Pataki?

The Gubernatorial Wannabe Undercut Our Schools in Major Court Battle

Spitzer's response on these issues, relayed through spokesman Paul Larrabee, is that "it has been his goal not to politicize the office" and that he believes that he "has an obligation to defend the state" except where there is a conflict of interest, such as between branches of government. "While those who came before him and follow may choose to approach this issue in a different manner," Larrabee concluded, Spitzer will continue his "nonpartisan" handling of state cases. Larrabee also replied to Wayland and Sanders's concerns about particular arguments Spitzer's office advanced by contending that the AG "works in consultation with the client to represent their position" and that he attempts "to express their positions as effectively as possible."

Asked if that meant that the opinions laid out in the briefs bearing Spitzer's name in this case did not reflect Spitzer's point of view, Larrabee said that "the role of an attorney is to advocate on behalf of his client." Spitzer's wide-ranging arguments before the Court of Appeals included such gems as "This problem is the result of the city's collective bargaining agreements, not state funding," "Preparation for competitive employment cannot possibly be a component of a minimally adequate education," and "The benefits of smaller class size" are "ambiguous," all opinions unlikely to be uttered on the 2006 gubernatorial campaign trail.

Cuomo recalls that when this case of elemental justice was filed—with the city classes averaging five more students than in upstate and suburban districts—he publicly urged the plaintiffs to call him as a witness. He says Spitzer could've distanced himself publicly as well. The heroic embodiment of the case, Robert Jackson, the parent plaintiff who has since become a city councilman and recently led a 10-day trudge to Albany to dramatize the appeal, was stunned to hear that Spitzer could've chosen to let Pataki find his own counsel. "I think he could have evaluated the case and said, we agree with the plaintiffs and we are not going to represent you," said Jackson.

Instead, Spitzer maintained what Larrabee describes as a "good working relationship" with the Pataki team, which ran a nominal and underfunded opponent against him in 2002 despite his razor-thin win four years earlier. While Spitzer has taken in recent months to assailing the governor for the budget deceptions of 2002, he never said a word about the budget during that campaign, even telling the Albany Times-Union a few days before the election, "I don't do criticizing of Pataki." The Post observed in 2001 that Spitzer had so "effusively praised" Pataki that he might "want to see him reelected." It may be that Spitzer's full-throttle participation in this case was, as Larrabee insists, a matter of apolitical principle. It may also be that it was a decidedly political accommodation to gubernatorial power and ambition.

Research assistance: Zoe Alsop, Michael Anstendig, Phineas Lambert, Naomi Lindt, Brittany Scheffer, and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

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