Crains New York Business - May 18, 2009
(AP) - The executive director of New York's ethics commission is quitting after he was accused of leaking information to one of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's top aides during a probe of his administration. Herbert Teitelbaum says in his resignation letter that the inspector general's report that accused him last week of the leak was flawed and he did nothing wrong. Instead, Mr. Teitelbaum says he is resigning because he became a lightning rod for criticism and didn't want to be a distraction for the state Public Integrity Commission. Inspector General Joseph Fisch's report called for dismissing Mr. Teitelbaum for unlawful contact with a Spitzer aide during the so-called "Troopergate'' investigation.
Embattled ethics director steps down
Herbert Teitelbaum exits after scathing Inspector General report
The Albany Times Union, Capitol Bureau - May 18, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 18, 2009
STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR DAVID A. PATERSON
“The Report of the Inspector General released last week indicates that there were serious leaks of confidential information from the Public Integrity Commission that the Commission tolerated by inaction. I was careful not to accuse any one Commissioner of wrongful conduct; I have no information to indicate that any single commissioner was at fault. However, the Commission was notified of unauthorized leaks and in my judgment, and that of the Inspector General, collectively failed to act but should have. As a result, the Commission has been compromised and its public standing is in question. “The sad reality is that this issue is much larger than the Public Integrity Commission. The general perception is that the ethics process in Albany is broken and I believe it is. This is the urgent challenge that we in government must address. I intend to submit legislation later this week to create a new Government Ethics Commission that would be independent and have jurisdiction over State government, lobbying and campaign finance. “Government depends on the trust of the public and must be accountable to its citizens. The public’s trust is a function of its confidence that government affairs are conducted honestly, ethically and without conflict of interest. It is my intention to put in place an independent commission structure that will restore the public’s confidence in our government.”
Integrity Panel Director Quits; Paterson Seeks New Ethics Body
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - May 19, 2009
ALBANY, NEW YORK - Herbert Teitelbaum resigned as executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity yesterday, five days after Governor David A. Paterson and the state's inspector general called on him to step aside for allegedly leaking information about a commission investigation of top Spitzer administration officials to the Spitzer camp. Mr. Teitelbaum insisted in a resignation letter to Michael G. Cherkasky, the commission's new chairman, that he had acted honorably throughout the Spitzer probe and that the near-constant controversy swirling around the commission since July 2007 was due to "unfounded attacks on the Commission and me from different quarters pursuing their political self-interests." "I, as Executive Director, have been a lightning rod for controversy," Mr. Teitelbaum told Mr. Cherkasky. "This happened not because the Commission or I compromised our search for the truth, but rather because we did not. . . . We persevered and did our job honorably."
Mr. Teitelbaum attacked Inspector General Joseph Fisch's report that concluded Mr. Teitelbaum "apparently" violated state Public Officers Law and Executive Law by sharing information with Robert Hermann, a former law partner and top Spitzer aide, into the commission's investigation of whether Mr. Spitzer's office misused State Police to discredit former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Mr. Teitelbaum told Mr. Cherkasky that he "unequivocally" denies the "bizarre" accusations against him and contended that Mr. Fisch had his mind made up about his guilt before he ever interviewed Mr. Teitelbaum. "Calling something an 'apparent violation' is just another way of saying 'I have insufficient proof,'" Mr. Teitelbaum wrote in his letter. "It is reckless, unprofessional and dangerous for the Inspector General to initiate an investigation based on a claim of 'inappropriate conduct' and to then make a finding of an 'apparent violation.' If allowed to continue unchecked, these sorts of witch hunts are destined to result in unwarranted attacks on reputations." Mr. Teitelbaum urged members of the commission to continue their "principled stand" and resist Mr. Paterson's call for their resignations in light of the Fisch report. Mr. Teitelbaum, 65, said he would take a "long overdue vacation" and that his resignation from his $140,000-a-year position would take effect on June 24.
A statement from Mr. Cherkaksy praised Mr. Teitelbaum for showing the "utmost professionalism" as he directed the commission's investigation of Spitzer administration efforts to plant unfavorable newspaper stories about Mr. Bruno's travel on state aircraft. "Good riddance," Senator George H. Winner of Elmira, a Republican critic of both Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Teitelbaum, said yesterday in an interview. "I just think he has significantly harmed the reputation of that body and I think it's good that he's gone." There was no immediate reaction yesterday from Mr. Paterson's office or Mr. Fisch.
Meanwhile, earlier yesterday, Mr. Paterson announced he would introduce legislation later this week to create a new commission to oversee ethics and lobbying in state government, replacing the integrity commission. "The sad reality is that this issue is much larger than the public integrity commission," Mr. Paterson said in a statement. "The general perception is that the ethics process in Albany is broken and I believe it is. This is the urgent challenge that we in government must address." He also said the new agency would be "independent." Sources familiar with the governor's plan said he wants no one appointing authority to control a majority of the seats on a government ethics commission. That would be in contrast to the current panel, where seven of 13 members are appointed by the governor. Critics of the integrity commission contend its independence is compromised in any investigations of the governor's office.
Mr. Paterson said the commission "tolerated by inaction" the activities of Mr. Teitelbaum. "I have no information to indicate that any single commissioner was at fault," Mr. Paterson said. "However, the commission was notified of unauthorized leaks and in my judgment, and that of the inspector general, collectively failed to act but should have. As a result, the commission has been compromised and its public standing is in question." No commission members had resigned as of yesterday, and several appointing authorities, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, have issued public statements of support for their designees. Spokesmen for both Democratic legislative leaders said lawmakers wanted to see more details of what Mr. Paterson will propose before commenting on a replacement for the integrity commission. Sources close to Mr. Paterson said he wants Mr. Cherkasky to serve as chairman of a new ethics agency if one is created by the Legislature. Mr. Paterson last week named Mr. Cherkasky, a former Marsh & McLennan CEO with close ties to Mr. Spitzer, as chairman of the Commission on Public Integrity. Mr. Cherkasky replaced John Feerick, the former Fordham University School of Law dean, who resigned in January. The bill Mr. Paterson will send to the Legislature will also contain proposed campaign finance reforms that sources said the governor wants the new ethics agency to regulate.
A new commission would not take over the functions of the Board of Elections, which maintains the database of contributions reported by statewide and legislative candidates, sources said. A Paterson spokeswoman said the governor will still file his proposed legislation later this week, despite Mr. Teitelbaum's resignation. Mr. Teitelbaum said in his resignation letter that he was proud of the work the commission had done since its formation in September 2007 to incorporate the functions of the former state ethics and lobbying commissions. The merger of the two agencies was billed by Mr. Spitzer as an important ethical reform, particularly with the added presence of Mr. Feerick, a long-standing authority on state government ethics. Mr. Feerick, in turn, recruited Mr. Teitelbaum. Mr. Teitelbaum spent two decades as a senior partner and founder of Teitelbaum, Hiller, Rodman, Paden & Hibsher and a decade as a litigation partner at Bryan Cave before joining state government (NYLJ, July 5, 2007). He was also a one-time legal director of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund. Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com