Barrett: Spitzer/Bruno Troopergate Still Toppling Officials

The seemingly endless Troopergate scandal left over from the previous governor is likely to claim a new head, or more, today in Albany, with the expected resignation of Herb Teitelbaum, the executive director of the New York State Commission on Public Integrity. Governor Paterson has also called for 12 members of the commission to resign as well, leaving only the new chair that he named last week, former Manhattan prosecutor Michael Cherkasky. But the members have so far refused to resign, and a lawyer for the commission members, Zachary Carter, did not return a Voice call to see if they're rethinking their position.

Sources tell the Voice that Cherkasky met with Teitelbaum last week, and that Teitelbaum has decided to call it quits. The state's inspector general, Joseph Fisch, a Paterson appointee, issued a 174-page report finding that Teitelbaum had "inappropriately disclosed confidential commission information related to its Troopergate investigation." Fisch noted that when the IG makes a finding against a state employee, it usually leaves "the issue of disciplinary action" to the head of an agency, but the evidence of Teitelbaum's "betrayal of the public trust" was so substantial that it compelled "the finding that his retention in state service is contrary to the public interest."

Ironically, Fisch found that Teitelbaum's conduct violated section 74(3)© of the public officers law, the same confidentiality provisions that good-government groups accuse Paterson of violating when secret information about Caroline Kennedy was fed to reporters at the end of Paterson's search for a U.S. Senator to replace Hillary Clinton. The New York Public Interest Research Group and other groups asked Teitelbaum and the commission to probe Paterson for possible violations of the same statute weeks ago, and the commission had yet to decide whether it would do so. Should the commission resign, as the governor has demanded, he would be able to name a new majority that would then be asked to decide if he should be investigated (Governor Spitzer named the current gubernatorial appointees).

Fisch didn't ask for the commission's resignation; indeed his report praised one member, Richard Emery, the appointee of Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who tried last year to get the commission to probe Teitelbaum's reputed leaks. But Paterson's call made no exception for Emery, or Emery's law partner, Andrew Celli, a Spitzer appointee on the commission who recused himself entirely on Troopergate and constantly was wholly uninvolved in any cover-up it might have conducted.

Just as oddly, Paterson wants another commissioner, Loretta Lynch, to resign, and yet endorsed her to become the next U.S. Attorney for Eastern District of New York, covering Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. Senator Schumer nominated Lynch for that post, and made it clear that nothing in the IG's report, or Paterson's action, has caused him to think twice about that. Paterson said Lynch--the chair of the commission until last week--"would serve well in the Eastern District." Lynch has actually already been U.S. Attorney, as has another member of the commission, which includes several top prosecutors and a highly respected former judge.

Paterson's sweeping chop-off-their-heads declaration was just one more example of his knee-jerk reactions and posturing, attempting to look like an ethics crusader for a day. Walter Ayers, who's been the spokesman for the commission since its inception under various chairs and executive directors, told the Voice that the IG, which took itself out of the original Troopergate probe under Fisch's predecessor, is now "criticizing the only agency," of the several that probed the scandal, "that actually charged anyone with violations of the law." Now, says Ayers, "we're the only ones charged with covering it up." The commission did press charges against several top Spitzer aides, who were accused of abusing their powers to leak negative information about then State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno to a reporter.
The ultimate irony is that in a state government as scandalous as New York's, a leak about a probe of a leak has now become the hottest ethics brouhaha in recent memory. Even Bruno's subsequent indictment for selling his office--unrelated to Troopergate--has received a fraction of the media attention as this flimsy tale.        


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