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Thursday, May 14, 2009

NYLJ: Governor Calls for Integrity Head to Resign

Inspector General, Governor Call for Integrity Head to Resign
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko -  May 14, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK - Governor David A. Paterson yesterday called for the resignation of Herbert Teitelbaum, the director of the Commission on Public Integrity, following the release of a report by the state's Inspector General that found Mr. Teitelbaum had improperly disclosed confidential information to a top aide of then-Governor Eliot Spitzer about a commission investigation of the Spitzer administration. Mr. Paterson said Mr. Teitelbaum had compromised the independence of an agency formed to police the conduct of government employees. Mr. Teitelbaum denied any wrongdoing.

In addition to calling for Mr. Teitelbaum to resign his $140,000-a-year post, Mr. Paterson asked commission counsel Barry Ginsberg and all six of his appointees to the 13-member commission to step down. One of the governor's slots on the commission is vacant. Mr. Paterson also said other government leaders should urge the six members they appointed to step down. There is one vacancy. Finally, Mr. Paterson appointed Michael G. Cherkasky, a former prosecutor who is president and chief executive officer of U.S. Investigations Services, as the new chairman of the commission. He will replace former Fordham University Law School Dean John D. Feerick, who resigned in January. "I have waited to replace [Mr. Feerick] until the Inspector General released his report," Mr. Paterson said in a statement. "I am confident that my appointment of Chairman Cherkasky combined with new commission members will give the commission the fresh start it needs and will help to restore public confidence in both the commission and state government." Attorney James DeVita said in a statement that Mr. Teitelbaum "categorically denies having violated his public trust."

"The suggestion that Mr. Teitelbaum improperly leaked confidential information is flatly contradicted by sworn testimony that is supported by contemporaneous documents," the statement said. Mr. DeVita said later in an interview that Mr. Teitelbaum "has no intention of resigning at this time." Mr. Teitelbaum serves at the pleasure of the commission and cannot be removed directly by the governor. The statement by Mr. DeVita of Bryan Cave also defended the members of the commission, who serve without pay. "It is extremely unfortunate that public servants with unblemished reputations and enormous talent, who have committed themselves and made tremendous personal sacrifices to help foster a more ethical environment in Albany, have been subjected to the unjustified and inaccurate aspersions that permeate the Inspector General's investigation and report," the statement said.

Inspector General Joseph Fisch also called for Mr. Teitelbaum's removal.

Mr. Fisch said Mr. Teitelbaum shared with Robert Hermann, a friend and former law partner, information about the 2007 probe into efforts by aides to Mr. Spitzer to misuse State Police resources to discredit Mr. Spitzer's political rival, former Senate Republican Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Mr. Hermann was head of Mr. Spitzer's Office of Regulatory Reform at the time. While Mr. Teitelbaum told the inspector general's investigators he was using discussions with Mr. Hermann to facilitate the release of Spitzer administration records and move the commission's investigation forward, Mr. Fisch said the communications appear to have violated Executive Law §94(12)(a) and Public Officers Law §74(3)(c).  Both statutes prohibit the disclosure of confidential integrity commission information. Mr. Hermann, a former partner of Mr. Teitelbaum's at Teitelbaum, Hiller, Rodman, Paden & Hibsher, may have also violated the Public Officers Law, according to Mr. Fisch's report. Mr. Hermann was solicitor general from 1984 to 1986.

"Herbert Teitelbaum and Robert Hermann betrayed the public trust," Mr. Fisch said in a statement. "It is disturbing that while investigating leaks by the governor's office of confidential information, the commission's executive director committed a similar offense by leaking confidential information." Mr. Fisch said he would have recommended Mr. Hermann's dismissal as well had he not stepped down in March. Mr. Hermann now works in the Legislature. He did not return calls seeking comment. Mr. Fisch also criticized the commission itself for failing to formally investigate Mr. Teitelbaum when Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares began to offer the commission evidence about Mr. Teitelbaum's possibly improper contacts with the Spitzer camp. "Despite receiving evidence of the executive director's misdeeds, the commission inexcusably failed on several occasions to investigate these serious allegations against Mr. Teitelbaum," Mr. Fisch said. Mr. Teitelbaum denied improperly releasing information when asked by members of the commission, and Mr. Feerick did not believe the executive director had breached confidentiality rules, according to the inspector general's report.

'Backdoor Channel'

According to the report, Mr. Teitelbaum had what he termed "backdoor channel" discussions with Mr. Hermann in July 2007 and August 2007, just as the Ethics Commission was beginning to investigate whether Mr. Spitzer's aides had improperly used State Police personnel to gather travel records to discredit Mr. Bruno, who was Mr. Spitzer's bitterest political rival at the time. Mr. Teitelbaum was executive director of the Ethics Commission in July and August 2007. He became executive director of the integrity commission the following month when the new agency was formed by the merger of the ethics and lobbying commissions. Mr. Fisch reported that Mr. Teitelbaum used Mr. Hermann "as an unsanctioned conduit for imparting unsolicited opinions and advice to the Executive Chamber regarding the Spitzer administration's response to the commission's demands for documents" vital to its investigation. Mr. Teitelbaum told the Inspector General's Office that he had discussed the commission's investigation of Mr. Spitzer in a "general way" with Mr. Hermann, but he denied disclosing any confidential information. Phone records reviewed by Mr. Fisch's office showed 165 calls between Mr. Teitelbaum and Mr. Hermann from when Mr. Teitelbaum was appointed to the Ethics Commission on June 20, 2007, to Nov. 13, 2007, when Mr. Soares confronted Mr. Teitelbaum with accusations that he was improperly leaking information.

Mr. Fisch's report contended that Mr. Teitelbaum "equivocated" when asked directly by the inspector general about his contacts with Mr. Hermann. "The Inspector General and the public to whom it reports expect and deserve straightforward, unambiguous denials when posing such questions," the report concluded. Mr. Fisch said the communications between Mr. Teitelbaum and Mr. Hermann appeared to have continued despite warnings to Mr. Teitelbaum by Meave Tooher, investigative counsel at the commission, that he "shouldn't be talking to anybody about the investigation." Mr. Hermann was ordered by then-Spitzer counsel Lloyd Constantine to stop talking to Mr. Teitelbaum. The report also identified Mr. Teitelbaum as the source of the information Mr. Hermann told Mr. Constantine on Nov. 1, 2007, that Mr. Soares would pursue a criminal investigation against former Spitzer communications director Darren Dopp for perjury for discrepancies in statements Mr. Dopp made to the commission and to Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo's investigators. Earlier that same day, Mr. Soares had confirmed to Mr. Teitelbaum that the district attorney would be pursuing criminal charges, and Mr. Hermann acknowledged to the inspector general's office that Mr. Teitelbaum was his source about the Dopp prosecution. The commission ultimately found that four top Spitzer administration figures had broken the Public Officers Law. Mr. Dopp and Preston Felton, the former superintendent of the State Police, are challenging that determination.

New Chairman

Mr. Cherkasky, 59, the commission's new unpaid chairman, is a former prosecutor who reportedly has close ties to Mr. Spitzer. His appointment does not require Senate confirmation. He is the chief executive officer of US Investigations Services, Inc., the largest supplier of security investigations for the U.S. government. Mr. Cherkasky was named chief executive of the insurance company Marsh & McLennan in October 2004, in the midst of a bid-rigging scandal in which the company faced charges from then-Attorney General Spitzer. He steered the company with a settlement of the case but was ousted in December 2007 following a year of disappointing financial results. He reportedly received a $7.15 million severance package from Marsh. Mr. Cherkasky also served as chief executive of Manhattan security firm Kroll, Inc., which he joined in 1994, following a stint in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, where he worked with Mr. Spitzer. As an assistant district attorney, Mr. Cherkasky led the rackets bureau and investigations division, and worked on such high-profile cases as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. A graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Law in 1975, Mr. Cherkasky clerked in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District Court of Ohio before joining the prosecutor's office.  He is the author of "Forewarned: Why the Government Is Failing to Protect Us - and What We Must Do to Protect Ourselves." Mr. Cherkasky was unavailable for comment last night.

Split on Resignation

Commission members yesterday released a statement prepared by Zachary Carter of Dorsey & Whitney, the commission's outside counsel, in which they said the inspector general's report "inappropriately second-guesses" the handling of the allegations against Mr. Teitelbaum that he was leaking confidential information to Mr. Hermann. The statement does not allude to Mr. Paterson's calls for the resignations of members of the commission. Individual commissioners were split when contacted yesterday.  Member John Brickman said he has no plans to resign while Andrew Celli Jr. said, "If the governor wants me gone, I'm gone, probably."  Mr. Teitelbaum was a litigation partner at Bryan Cave before coming to first the Ethics and then the Integrity commission in 2007.

Mr. Feerick, who did not return a call for comment yesterday and has declined comment on the commission since his departure in January, referred to Mr. Teitelbaum in a 2007 interview as a person of "unflinching integrity." Critics of the commission, however, said Messrs. Feerick, Teitelbaum and others were hampered with an appearance of a conflict of interest from the inception of the commission. Under a governing structure demanded by Mr. Spitzer, there are seven gubernatorial appointments to the 13-member commission. That gave Mr. Spitzer control of the commission, which included the power to appoint the chairman.  When the politically charged investigation of the Spitzer administration became the commission's first high-profile case, critics contended that the commission could not complete an impartial investigation because it was controlled by the governor whose office it was investigating. Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said yesterday the structure of the commission, not its members, is compromising the integrity of the agency.  "It's a bad place to put somebody, and it's a bad structure," Mr. Horner said.  Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com. Vesselin Mitev and Noeleen G. Walder contributed to this report.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Look's like the s-- has finally begun to hit the fan..Their days of doing nothing are OVER!!!!!

Anonymous said...

The Domino's are beginning to fall.. The RATS are starting to sink like birds..

Anonymous said...

This is the best spring cleaning in recent memory!

Anonymous said...

Paterson has renewed my faith in him. Keep it going Dave !!!!!! Bring down the corrupt bastards who have destroyed vital parts of our government.

Anonymous said...

Don't praise Paterson yet...he has not signed on to clean up the courts..the worst and most glaring of all the unethical operations.
He has Silver and Lippman to turn against and he in my estimation...does not have the oranges even close to the size needed to overthrow that ballsy duo.

Fumigate Now said...

The Governor must clean out all the rats nests and fumigate all the court areas. This is the only way to get rid of corruption with attorneys, Judges and their minions.

Eliot Bernstein said...

Director of State Ethics Panel Resigns
By Danny Hakim

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times

Herbert Teitelbaum resigned as executive director of the State Commission on Public Integrity.ALBANY — Herbert Teitelbaum, the executive director of the State Commission on Public Integrity, is resigning.

His decision follows a stinging report last week from the state inspector general, Joseph Fisch, which accused Mr. Teitelbaum of leaking sensitive information about an investigation of the Spitzer administration. The report called for his resignation.

The governor also asked for Mr. Teitelbaum to step down, along with the 12 sitting commissioners, who have refused. Since they serve fixed terms, their refusals have led to a standoff. Looking for a way out, the governor proposed on Monday to overhaul the commission itself, but he would need the support of the Legislature.

Mr. Teitelbaum, whose resignation is effective June 24, does not go quietly. In a four-page letter, [pdf] he urged the commissioners “to continue their principled stand in opposition to the governor’s call for their wholesale resignation.”

He wrote that the governor’s call for resignations is “an example of the very kind of pressure the commission’s enabling legislation sought to stem.”

He also defended his own conduct, saying Mr. Fisch “felt free to reach a conclusion based on surmise and the accounts of clearly biased Spitzer lieutenants.”

Michael G. Cherkasky, chairman of the commission, said in a statement:

Mr. Teitelbaum has served the people of New York with honor and diligence during one of the most difficult periods ever faced by a new state agency. With the utmost professionalism, he oversaw the commission’s investigation into “Troopergate,” working tirelessly to make sure all the facts became known to the public and resisting the efforts of many to stonewall his efforts. The skills he used in his many years as a successful litigator were invaluable in getting to the heart of this scandal.

Herb has made a selfless decision in the wake of the inspector general’s report which the commission commented on last week. He has a strong commitment to the commission’s mission and to its staff. While we are saddened to lose Herb, we understand that by this action he has decided to put a stop to what has become a distraction to the commission’s critical work.

Among his many accomplishments at the commission, Herb managed the merger of the former lobbying and ethics commissions into the new Commission on Public Integrity, which involved countless hours meeting with staff, obtaining new office space and separating the commission from the Department of State in order to make it even more independent. He was intricately involved in developing a new online training program, and issuing more than 150 advisory opinions to state employees. Under his leadership, the commission has made an effort to increase the fines for illegal conduct on the part of public officials. Recently, the commission reached the largest settlement ever with a state employee, a $25,000 settlement that was announced just last week. He deserves the thanks of all the residents of the state.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2