ALBANY (TNS) — Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is leading a legal counterattack against the state’s Joint Public Ethics Commission.
His attorney, Rita Glavin, has filed a lawsuit asking the state inspector general’s office to investigate their allegation that members of the commission or its staff leaked confidential information about Cuomo’s dealings with the ethics committee. Glavin also filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on Friday night challenging the commission’s efforts to return more than $5 million in proceeds from a book he wrote about handling the pandemic. by his administration.
The six-page complaint claims that “breaches of confidentiality breached Governor Cuomo’s privacy rights and compromised the independence of JCOPE commissioners and staff by exerting public pressure on them,” Glavin wrote in a letter to Inspector General Lucy Lang.
She argues that on “numerous occasions” between August and March, the media published stories about the commission’s “plans, decisions, thought process and information” regarding its deliberations and resolutions calling on Cuomo to return the proceeds of the commission. his book on the grounds that he wrongly used state government employees to help him write, edit and publish “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic”.
Cuomo disputes that he misused government resources to produce the book and insisted that all government employees who helped his work did so voluntarily.
But it’s unclear whether the reported information about the committee’s deliberations on the handling of Cuomo’s book deal — which received approval from a JCOPE associate attorney in July 2020 — broke the rules. of confidentiality that govern the panel. Many of their conversations and votes on this have taken place in public. Additionally, Cuomo’s office had publicly disclosed that he had received ethics commission clearance to write the book; it was an outside income that required him to receive the commission’s approval.
Gary Lavine, a commissioner who publicly argued for the panel to pursue revoking Cuomo’s book deal endorsement, and pushed the attorney general and JCOPE to force the former governor to return his $5 million payout , is the target of Glavin’s complaint.
“Cuomo has publicly acknowledged that his team worked on writing, editing and advancing the publication of the book. There was nothing confidential about it at all,” Lavine said Saturday. “The initial advice he got from (a commission staff member) would have been confidential, but he disclosed it publicly. Once it is in the public domain, it is no longer confidential. “
Lavine called the claims in Glavin’s complaint “a typical Cuomo tactic of diversion and distraction.”
Glavin’s lawsuit was filed in the state Supreme Court, but he asserts a federal civil rights claim.
The civil complaint, which seeks to block the ethics commission from moving forward in its effort to force Cuomo to return the proceeds of his book, argues that the commissioners “showed extraordinary bias in against him”. He also alleges that their resolutions were illegal and notes that the state attorney general refused to enforce them.
Commissioners who have backed pursuing enforcement proceedings against Cuomo argue that his office misled their assistant attorney in 2020 and that “state property, resources and personnel, including state volunteers staff, were used in the preparation, writing, editing and publication of the book.”
Cuomo’s pursuit of an inspector general’s investigation into alleged inappropriate disclosures by the commission or its staff marks a curious twist. Some commissioners have called on that same office to review Cuomo’s alleged receipt of leaked confidential information about a January 2019 meeting in which they apparently voted against investigating his former senior aide, Joseph Percoco, for allegations that he used government resources for the campaign. work on behalf of Cuomo.
A second investigation into this leak was never conducted. The inspector general’s office conducted a secret investigation into the allegation in 2019, but the arguably lackluster nature of that investigation prompted the commissioner who reported the violation to resign in protest.
Lavine said he’s been threatened before about his comments on committee business, but says none of his remarks breached confidentiality rules.
“For 40 years, the Court of Appeals has consistently held that there is a presumption of openness in state government,” he said. “Any law providing for confidentiality must be interpreted strictly. The interpretation of what is confidential is the prerogative of the Joint Public Ethics Commission, not Governor Cuomo or Inspector General Lang.”
The political drama unfolds as Cuomo has spent money from his campaign account in a massive effort to restore his reputation following the findings of an attorney general’s report released in August that found he sexually harassed or acted inappropriately with 11 women. Cuomo announced his resignation a week after the report was released, but has since said he regretted stepping down.
JCOPE had its own problems. The commission’s politically charged dynamic — members are appointed by the governor and legislative leaders who are among the state officials they are meant to oversee — prompted recent negotiations between Governor Kathy Hochul and the Legislative Assembly. on whether to dismantle it and develop a new system. ethics control.
The complaint filed Friday marks Glavin’s second filing with the Inspector General’s Office targeting JCOPE. She previously asked that office to investigate an incident during a committee meeting on August 26, when her live audio could still be heard online for about 10 minutes after she began deliberating during a executive session behind closed doors.
Although commissioners and staff said the audio glitch was an unintentional technical error, when a state General Service Office employee failed to disconnect the audio stream, Glavin said the law of the state “requires the Inspector General to investigate any breach of JCOPE’s confidentiality.”
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