Cuomo wins lawsuit against NY Ethics Board over $5M book deal

Cuomo wins lawsuit against NY Ethics Board over $5M book deal
Albany, New York A state judge found on Monday that a commission established last year to police ethics laws for New York state employees and elected officials violates the state constitution because it is too independent. This ruling may weaken the body's ability to fight corruption and influence peddling.

The decision was made in a case brought by the former governor Andrew Cuomo, who had been battling the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government's attempt to force him to forfeit $5 million he received for producing a book about his administration's efforts during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Legislature and Governor Kathy Hochul established the commission to take the place of a previous ethics panel that had come under fire for not being sufficiently impartial. Following Cuomo's retirement in 2021 due to a sexual harassment controversy, the lawmakers declared they sought to boost public confidence in the government.

The Commission looks into alleged ethical and lobbying transgressions by state personnel, representatives, lobbyists, and their clients. State legislators who are subject to commission findings are referred to the Legislative Ethics Commission for enforcement.

However, New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas Marcelle stated in his ruling that the commission is in violation of the state constitution due to its very independence.

The judge specifically said that the executive branch has the authority to enforce ethical legislation. That is made difficult by the commission, he claimed, because the governor has no authority over its members and cannot require them to account for their acts or dismiss them for failing to perform their duties.
According to Marcelle, "Our Constitution, which so carefully divides authority among the three branches, will not permit those powers to be transferred to (an) independent commission amounting to an unapproved fourth branch of government."

To grant that kind of authority to an independent body, the court ruled it would be necessary to modify the state constitution.

State representatives declared right away that they were considering appealing the trial-level judge's ruling.

In order to create a new, really independent ethics agency that may start to restore New Yorkers' faith in their elected officials, Governor Hochul collaborated with the Legislature after taking office in the middle of controversy and a crisis in State government, according to Hochul spokesman Avi Small. The independent ethics panel established by Governor Hochul is undercut by today's decision, and we will cooperate with the panel to support an appeal.

While the matter is being litigated in court, the commission said in a statement that it would continue to encourage adherence to the state's ethics and lobbying regulations. Officials from the Commission stated that they are considering all alternatives, including legislation.

In a joint statement, commission chair Frederick Davie and executive director Sanford Berland said, "The Commission intends to move forward, deliberately and with zeal, to fulfill its mission to restore New Yorkers' faith in government, even as it pursues relief from today's ruling through the appellate and legislative processes."

In regards to his book earnings, Cuomo has engaged in conflict with the commission as well as its predecessor, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. Cuomo allegedly broke his vow not to use any official state resources, according to state officials. Cuomo has refuted these charges.

In April, Cuomo filed his current complaint, claiming the commission lacked the legal power to bring charges against him.

Cuomo spokesperson Rich Azzopardi issued a prepared statement, saying, "As we've said all along, this was nothing more than an attack by those who abused their government positions unethically and — as the judge ruled today — unconstitutionally for political purpose."

After the attorney general made public the findings of an inquiry, which showed that the then-governor had sexually harassed at least 11 women, Cuomo announced his resignation in August 2021. Cuomo has refuted the charges.

"Every time someone charged with upholding the law looks at the facts, we prevail," Azzopardi continued.
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