State Ethics Panel Challenged on Cuomo Book Decision

When a  court ruled in favor of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week on his pandemic-related memoir, it did so by rejecting the very existence of the state’s ethics commission that had pursued Cuomo over the $5 million he made off the book.

Justice Thomas Marcelle of State Supreme Court in Albany ruled Monday that Cuomo’s lawyers were right that the new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government was created unconstitutionally, by removing enforcement from the governor’s office. If the decision stands, it could put the 11-member commission out of business, The New York Times concluded.

Both the chair of the commission, Federick A. Davie, and executive director Sanford Berland, disagreed with the decision. Berland, a prominent attorney and former judge from Dix Hills, who is married to District Court Judge Susan Berland, formerly a member member of the Huntington Town Board and the Suffolk County Legislature.

Davie and Berland wrote,

We respectfully disagree with the court’s result and are reviewing all options, including, if appropriate, interim legislation.

New Yorkers have the right to an ethics commission that is truly independent and fully empowered to administer and enforce the state’s ethics and lobbying laws objectively, even-handedly, and without regard to the rank, position, or political affiliation of those we regulate and without interference from any branch of government. 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.

Let me be clear, the state ethics and lobbying laws (Public Officers Law §§ 73, 73-a, and 74, Civil Service Law § 107, and Legislative Law Article 1-A) remain intact. While this matter works its way through the courts, the Commission will continue to promote compliance with the state’s ethics and lobbying laws.

The commission was formed by Gov. Kathy Hochul after complaints that its predecessor, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), had failed to act on several corruption scandals. Berland was also executive director of JCOPE.

This week’s ruling, if it stands, means that Cuomo can keep the $5 million in proceeds from the sale of his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons From the Covid-19 Pandemic.”

Both commissions had decided that Cuomo violated state ethics laws in writing the book.

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