Seymour James Appointed To Commission To Investigate Public Corruption

Seymour W. James, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of The Legal Aid Society and former President of the New York State Bar Association, was appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve on a special commission to examine public corruption. Cuomo announced the creation of the commission yesterday. The Commission has the authority to investigate any branch of state government and refer misconduct cases for prosecution. It is expected that the commission will recommend changes in the law and ethics rules.

Cuomo Launches Commission to Probe Public Corruption in State Government
By Michael Virtanen
The Associated Press
July 3, 2013

ALBANY - Governor Andrew Cuomo established a powerful investigative body Tuesday to examine public corruption, including potential wrongdoing by legislators in campaign fundraising, in an attempt to address what is seen as a widespread problem in New York government.

Cuomo, announcing the panel at the Capitol, was joined by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said he will deputize the commission members. That gives them broad authority to investigate any branch of state government and refer misconduct cases for prosecution. They also will recommend changes in the law and ethics rules, he said.

Cuomo announced his intention two weeks ago after abandoning efforts to get reforms through the Legislature. That followed federal bribery and embezzlement charges filed against several state lawmakers this year. Similar commissions ordered by governors over decades have resulted in lengthy corruption probes and arrests.

"They'll follow the money and go where the commission determines to go," Cuomo said. It is not a legislative witch hunt, he said, noting the federal cases show there are real problems, but adding that he expects the investigation to vindicate 99 percent of elected officials who are good people.

The committee was established by executive order under both New York's anti-corruption Moreland Act and the state's Executive Law. It has subpoena power and will investigate the influence of campaign contributions on state government and compliance with election and lobbying laws. Its preliminary report is due by Dec. 1, with a final report expected by the end of next year.

"The corruption that now is perceived by the public to be rampant in state government undermines the ability of every part of the state government to function. It has to be addressed comprehensively," Schneiderman said.

The commission is chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Onondago County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and attorney Milton Williams. Most of its other 22 members are attorneys and prosecutors, including several Republicans. State Police Superintendent Joseph D'Amico, New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly and Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters are special advisers. Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is a special counsel.

Fitzpatrick questioned news reports that some legislators expressed surprise Cuomo was establishing a commission.

"What is the magic number that it takes for people to say, 'Wow, there's a problem here'? The number's about 35 right now—people indicted, under investigation, sentenced to prison," he said.

Meetings would start immediately Tuesday to put together a strategy and staff would soon start examining documents, said commission executive director Regina Calcaterra, who also directed Cuomo's special commission that investigated the Long Island Power Au-thority's response to Hurricane Sandy. They include campaign finance reports at the Board of Elections and financial disclosures by legislators and other elected officials.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly's majority Democratic Conference, said Tuesday that campaign finance reform has been among that chamber's top priorities and passed there many times, including this year.

"We look forward to working with the commission to develop and advance comprehensive policy recommendations so we can finally have a system in place that reduces the influence of money in our elections," he said.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos has warned against turning the investigation into a "witch hunt" against the Legislature.

Members of the Commission:

  • Kathleen Rice, district attorney, Nassau County
  • William Fitzpatrick, district attorney, Onondago County
  • Milton Williams, attorney
  • J. Patrick Barrett, CEO, CARPAT Investments
  • Richard Briffault, professor, Columbia Law School
  • Daniel Castleman, senior managing director, forensic and litigation consulting practice, FTI Consulting
  • Derek Champagne, district attorney, Franklin County
  • Eric Corngold, litigation partner, Friedman Kaplan Seiler & Adelman
  • Kathleen Hogan, district attorney, Warren County
  • Nancy Hoppock, executive director, NYU Center on the Administration of Criminal Law
  • Seymour James Jr., attorney-in-charge, criminal practice, Legal Aid Society
  • David Javdan, managing director, Alvarez & Marsal
  • Robert Johnson, Bronx County district attorney
  • David Jones, president, CEO, Community Service Society of New York
  • Lance Liebman, professor, Columbia Law School; director, American Law Institute
  • Joanne Mahoney, county executive, Onondaga County
  • Gerald Mollen, district attorney, Broome County
  • Makau Mutua, dean, University at Buffalo Law School
  • Benito Romano, partner, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
  • Frank Sedita III, district attorney, Erie County
  • P. David Soares, district attorney, Albany County
  • Kristy Sprague, district attorney, Essex County
  • Betty Weinberg Ellerin, senior counsel, Alston & Bird
  • Peter Zimroth, partner, Arnold & Porter
  • Thomas Zugibe, district attorney, Rockland County
  • Joseph D'Amico, superintendent, New York State Police
  • Raymond Kelly, police commissioner, City of New York
  • Robert Morgenthau, former district attorney, New York County (will serve as special counsel to the commission)
  • Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director, League of Women Voters of New York