News & Politics

Barrett: Spitzer/Bruno Troopergate Still Toppling Officials

by

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.        

More: