Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/cyrus-vance 2017-10-21T12:26:19+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Vance Fallout Echoes Other Controversies that Led to Reforms 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-19T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7265:vance-fallout-echoes-other-controversies-that-led-to-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/comptroller-dinapoli-with-check-nyscomptroller.jpg" alt="comptroller dinapoli with check nyscomptroller" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (@NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>As the office and campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reexamine internal policies regarding the acceptance of campaign contributions, they may want to reference the guidebook of the office of the State Comptroller or Attorney General, both of which have implemented their own donor-vetting systems and guidelines in the wake of controversies involving fundraising practices. These checks far exceed what is required by <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7252-vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lax and porous state campaign finance laws</a>.</p> <p>District Attorney Vance, facing immense pressure over his handling of a sexual misconduct case against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and of a fraud investigation into Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, announced Sunday in a New York Daily News op-ed that he had enlisted the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School to review and recommend restrictions on his campaign finance practices, especially with regard to contributions from defense lawyers with business before the district attorney’s office.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the column</a>, Vance said he hoped that CAPI would “recommend that we go well beyond what is currently required by laws that govern contributions to district attorneys in our state,” adding that “this is one of the first reviews of its kind ever undertaken in the realm of prosecutors’ offices, and the firestorm we have experienced over the past week presents an opportunity for real reform.”</p> <p>The response to reports that Vance had accepted large campaign contributions from lawyers affiliated with the Trumps and Weinstein, before and after each case was closed, recalls another flare up involving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, during his $40 million lawsuit against Trump University, which started in 2011 and spanned about six years, though the office does abide by internally enforced campaign finance guidelines.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s office came under scrutiny for his campaign’s acceptance and alleged solicitation of funds from members of the Trump family while engaged in litigation against the university, which was widely seen as a scam. Trump has given $12,500 to help get Schneiderman elected as attorney general, and Ivanka Trump reportedly gave $500 to Schneiderman’s campaign in 2012. Trump aides <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/08/24/attorney-general-schneiderman-hit-up-trump-for-donations-while-probing-his-school/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> the mogul was told Schneiderman’s campaign solicited contributions from Ivanka offering to make the “very weak” ongoing investigation “go away,” and filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), though the ethics advisory organization decided not pursue the case.</p> <p>It would not be not the first time Trump was accused of attempting to buy his way out of the legal mess <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-the-scandal-that-wont-go-away" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surrounding Trump University</a>. In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was up for reelection, reportedly solicited Trump for donations while acknowledging that she was considering joining Schneiderman in his Trump University suit, but <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/despite-controversy-floridas-ag-accepts-role-trump-panel" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decided not to pursue</a> the case after the mogul made a $25,000 donation to an organization, called And Justice for All, that was backing her campaign. Trump was fined by the Internal Revenue Service, not for the obvious pay-to-play element -- which is legal -- but for making the political contribution from his foundation rather than his personal bank account.</p> <p>Trump settled the Trump University suit, including paying $25 million to individuals who had enrolled in the school, and Schneiderman has continued to pursue cases against Trump, a fact that his representatives cite as evidence that the attorney general is not influenced by donors to his campaign.</p> <p>Even prior to his ongoing battles with Trump, Schneiderman adhered to the policies of his two most recent predecessors by refusing to accept contributions from individuals or entities who have a matter before the office or have had such within the prior 90 days, according to a spokesperson for his office.</p> <p>Furthermore, “every contributor who is personally solicited is subject to an extensive vetting process, and the office has both returned and refused to accept contributions from individuals and attorneys who have had matters before this office,” said Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the attorney general, in a statement.</p> <p>The policy was tweaked after JCOPE put out <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/advice/jcope/2016/AO%2016-02%20FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an advisory opinion</a> last year expanding this ban to one year for matters in which the attorney general was personally and substantially involved or for contributions that were personally solicited. </p> <p>The ethics advisory commission, which has jurisdiction over state officials and lobbyists, also ruled that directly soliciting and knowingly accepting contributions from the active subject of investigations and enforcement proceedings violates Public Officers Law 74. Other conduct, such as directly soliciting from an attorney that is appearing before the office, would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure.</p> <p>County-level prosecutors like district attorneys, of which there are 62 across the state, are not under the purview of JCOPE. The city’s Conflict of Interest Board does not deal with conflicts related to campaign finance, and neither the city’s Campaign Finance Board nor the state’s Office of Court Administration, which supervises the conduct of judicial candidates, have power over district attorneys, leaving these law enforcement officials a rare level of latitude and impunity.</p> <p>The massive pay-to-play scandal involving former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi similarly resulted in self-imposed reforms for that office. In 2011, Hevesi -- who had resigned four years earlier as part of a plea bargain for an unrelated scandal -- admitted to accepting $1 million in gifts for himself and friends in exchange for offering "preferential treatment" and $250 million in state pension investments to Markstone Capital, which was owned by Elliott Broidy. Broidy, in turn, gave $500,000 to Hevesi’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>Following his election in 2007, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli enacted a series of reforms, including an executive order and interim policy that banned pay-to-play practices, which went into effect in 2009.</p> <p>The order prohibited the state pension fund from doing business with any investment adviser who made a political contribution to the state comptroller or a candidate for state comptroller, and applied for two years from the date of the contribution. The regulations were put in place ahead of <a href="https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-116.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2010 rules</a> issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which they closely parallel.</p> <p>“The point was to ban the practice without waiting for the SEC rule, which was then in the proposal stage. The SEC rule went into force in 2011, at which point it became the law of the land and superseded or obviated the Comptroller's executive order,” said DiNapoli spokesperson Matthew Sweeney.</p> <p>Recommendations from the CAPI review of Vance’s practices are due in January. Meanwhile, at least two Democratic Assembly members have proposed bills that would significantly curb contributions to district attorneys.</p> <p>One <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5841/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> was sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Abinanti in February and calls for publicly-financed elections of district attorneys and State Supreme Court justices. It has a handful of co-sponsors, but it never went anywhere. </p> <p>"As an attorney, I've always been troubled by a system where judges are elected on the basis of money of people who appear before them,” said Abinanti, who represents Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. “It's just unseemly.”</p> <p>More importantly, Abinanti said, for prosecutors, who are law enforcement officials, publicly-finance elections would enable them to more honestly express their views on issues like drug policy, immigration, and bail reform, at pre-election forums and debates.</p> <p>The issue arose in the recent Democratic primary for Brooklyn District Attorney, when Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was criticized for accepting money from the bail bond industry.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">expected</a> to be introduced in January by Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan, would compile a statewide database of criminal defense attorneys and firms and steeply reduces the amount these individuals and entities can contribute to a district attorney candidate's campaign (up to $320 per election cycle). It also would prevent the bundling of donations to district attorney candidates.</p> <p>“It would create greater transparency and limit the influence of criminal defense attorneys,” said Quart, who noted that the system was based on the “NYC Doing Business” database. Entities listed on the database are greatly restricted by the city’s campaign finance system in what campaign donations they can give to candidates for city offices.</p> <p>Though the New York State Assembly’s Democratic majority conference convened for several hours on Tuesday in Albany, a legislative response to questions raised by the Vance controversy was not discussed, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>“I understand where people are coming from,” said Heastie of the public outrage. “We didn’t get a chance to talk about that, I don’t want to just make a decision without talking to members of our conference, but we are always open to election reforms that will give the confidence to our constituents that there are no inherent conflicts.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/comptroller-dinapoli-with-check-nyscomptroller.jpg" alt="comptroller dinapoli with check nyscomptroller" width="600" height="451" /></p> <p>Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (@NYSComptroller)</p> <hr /> <p>As the office and campaign of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance reexamine internal policies regarding the acceptance of campaign contributions, they may want to reference the guidebook of the office of the State Comptroller or Attorney General, both of which have implemented their own donor-vetting systems and guidelines in the wake of controversies involving fundraising practices. These checks far exceed what is required by <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7252-vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lax and porous state campaign finance laws</a>.</p> <p>District Attorney Vance, facing immense pressure over his handling of a sexual misconduct case against disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein and of a fraud investigation into Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, announced Sunday in a New York Daily News op-ed that he had enlisted the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia Law School to review and recommend restrictions on his campaign finance practices, especially with regard to contributions from defense lawyers with business before the district attorney’s office.</p> <p>In <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the column</a>, Vance said he hoped that CAPI would “recommend that we go well beyond what is currently required by laws that govern contributions to district attorneys in our state,” adding that “this is one of the first reviews of its kind ever undertaken in the realm of prosecutors’ offices, and the firestorm we have experienced over the past week presents an opportunity for real reform.”</p> <p>The response to reports that Vance had accepted large campaign contributions from lawyers affiliated with the Trumps and Weinstein, before and after each case was closed, recalls another flare up involving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, during his $40 million lawsuit against Trump University, which started in 2011 and spanned about six years, though the office does abide by internally enforced campaign finance guidelines.</p> <p>Schneiderman’s office came under scrutiny for his campaign’s acceptance and alleged solicitation of funds from members of the Trump family while engaged in litigation against the university, which was widely seen as a scam. Trump has given $12,500 to help get Schneiderman elected as attorney general, and Ivanka Trump reportedly gave $500 to Schneiderman’s campaign in 2012. Trump aides <a href="http://nypost.com/2013/08/24/attorney-general-schneiderman-hit-up-trump-for-donations-while-probing-his-school/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">claimed</a> the mogul was told Schneiderman’s campaign solicited contributions from Ivanka offering to make the “very weak” ongoing investigation “go away,” and filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), though the ethics advisory organization decided not pursue the case.</p> <p>It would not be not the first time Trump was accused of attempting to buy his way out of the legal mess <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/trump-university-the-scandal-that-wont-go-away" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">surrounding Trump University</a>. In 2013, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was up for reelection, reportedly solicited Trump for donations while acknowledging that she was considering joining Schneiderman in his Trump University suit, but <a href="http://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/despite-controversy-floridas-ag-accepts-role-trump-panel" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">decided not to pursue</a> the case after the mogul made a $25,000 donation to an organization, called And Justice for All, that was backing her campaign. Trump was fined by the Internal Revenue Service, not for the obvious pay-to-play element -- which is legal -- but for making the political contribution from his foundation rather than his personal bank account.</p> <p>Trump settled the Trump University suit, including paying $25 million to individuals who had enrolled in the school, and Schneiderman has continued to pursue cases against Trump, a fact that his representatives cite as evidence that the attorney general is not influenced by donors to his campaign.</p> <p>Even prior to his ongoing battles with Trump, Schneiderman adhered to the policies of his two most recent predecessors by refusing to accept contributions from individuals or entities who have a matter before the office or have had such within the prior 90 days, according to a spokesperson for his office.</p> <p>Furthermore, “every contributor who is personally solicited is subject to an extensive vetting process, and the office has both returned and refused to accept contributions from individuals and attorneys who have had matters before this office,” said Amy Spitalnick, press secretary for the attorney general, in a statement.</p> <p>The policy was tweaked after JCOPE put out <a href="http://www.jcope.ny.gov/advice/jcope/2016/AO%2016-02%20FINAL.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an advisory opinion</a> last year expanding this ban to one year for matters in which the attorney general was personally and substantially involved or for contributions that were personally solicited. </p> <p>The ethics advisory commission, which has jurisdiction over state officials and lobbyists, also ruled that directly soliciting and knowingly accepting contributions from the active subject of investigations and enforcement proceedings violates Public Officers Law 74. Other conduct, such as directly soliciting from an attorney that is appearing before the office, would be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, according to JCOPE spokesperson Walter McClure.</p> <p>County-level prosecutors like district attorneys, of which there are 62 across the state, are not under the purview of JCOPE. The city’s Conflict of Interest Board does not deal with conflicts related to campaign finance, and neither the city’s Campaign Finance Board nor the state’s Office of Court Administration, which supervises the conduct of judicial candidates, have power over district attorneys, leaving these law enforcement officials a rare level of latitude and impunity.</p> <p>The massive pay-to-play scandal involving former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi similarly resulted in self-imposed reforms for that office. In 2011, Hevesi -- who had resigned four years earlier as part of a plea bargain for an unrelated scandal -- admitted to accepting $1 million in gifts for himself and friends in exchange for offering "preferential treatment" and $250 million in state pension investments to Markstone Capital, which was owned by Elliott Broidy. Broidy, in turn, gave $500,000 to Hevesi’s reelection campaign.</p> <p>Following his election in 2007, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli enacted a series of reforms, including an executive order and interim policy that banned pay-to-play practices, which went into effect in 2009.</p> <p>The order prohibited the state pension fund from doing business with any investment adviser who made a political contribution to the state comptroller or a candidate for state comptroller, and applied for two years from the date of the contribution. The regulations were put in place ahead of <a href="https://www.sec.gov/news/press/2010/2010-116.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2010 rules</a> issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which they closely parallel.</p> <p>“The point was to ban the practice without waiting for the SEC rule, which was then in the proposal stage. The SEC rule went into force in 2011, at which point it became the law of the land and superseded or obviated the Comptroller's executive order,” said DiNapoli spokesperson Matthew Sweeney.</p> <p>Recommendations from the CAPI review of Vance’s practices are due in January. Meanwhile, at least two Democratic Assembly members have proposed bills that would significantly curb contributions to district attorneys.</p> <p>One <a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/legislation/bills/2017/a5841/amendment/original" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bill</a> was sponsored by Assemblymember Tom Abinanti in February and calls for publicly-financed elections of district attorneys and State Supreme Court justices. It has a handful of co-sponsors, but it never went anywhere. </p> <p>"As an attorney, I've always been troubled by a system where judges are elected on the basis of money of people who appear before them,” said Abinanti, who represents Greenburgh and Mount Pleasant. “It's just unseemly.”</p> <p>More importantly, Abinanti said, for prosecutors, who are law enforcement officials, publicly-finance elections would enable them to more honestly express their views on issues like drug policy, immigration, and bail reform, at pre-election forums and debates.</p> <p>The issue arose in the recent Democratic primary for Brooklyn District Attorney, when Acting District Attorney Eric Gonzalez was criticized for accepting money from the bail bond industry.</p> <p>Another piece of legislation, <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">expected</a> to be introduced in January by Assemblymember Dan Quart of Manhattan, would compile a statewide database of criminal defense attorneys and firms and steeply reduces the amount these individuals and entities can contribute to a district attorney candidate's campaign (up to $320 per election cycle). It also would prevent the bundling of donations to district attorney candidates.</p> <p>“It would create greater transparency and limit the influence of criminal defense attorneys,” said Quart, who noted that the system was based on the “NYC Doing Business” database. Entities listed on the database are greatly restricted by the city’s campaign finance system in what campaign donations they can give to candidates for city offices.</p> <p>Though the New York State Assembly’s Democratic majority conference convened for several hours on Tuesday in Albany, a legislative response to questions raised by the Vance controversy was not discussed, according to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.</p> <p>“I understand where people are coming from,” said Heastie of the public outrage. “We didn’t get a chance to talk about that, I don’t want to just make a decision without talking to members of our conference, but we are always open to election reforms that will give the confidence to our constituents that there are no inherent conflicts.”</p> <p>

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by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Vance Controversy Spotlights Lax Campaign Finance Rules for District Attorneys 2017-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-15T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7252:vance-controversies-spotlight-lax-campaign-finance-rules-for-district-attorneys Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cy_vance_crop_manhattan_da.jpg" alt="cy vance crop manhattan da" width="600" height="331" /></p> <p>Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family in a 2012, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties.</p> <p>While it is not illegal - or uncommon - for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to the state’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of age-old questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.</p> <p>District attorneys, through their election campaigns -- which are not bound by New York City’s strict fundraising and spending limits -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars from a single donor, including lawyers, regardless of whether the attorney has business before the office. Government reform advocates, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, say there are systemic issues at play and are calling for campaign finance reform, including a serious look at public financing for all state-level officials. Some say district attorney candidates should be subject to the same fundraising restrictions as judicial candidates to prevent real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest.</p> <p>Currently, candidates for district attorney operate in one of the many largely unseen areas of state campaign finance law and enforcement, with minimal rules and almost no oversight. District attorney campaigns file disclosures through the state Board of Elections, but there is little evidence that those filings are examined closely -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7058-rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an apparently statewide issue</a> wherein regulators pay scant attention to campaigns for local offices.</p> <p>Recent reporting from The New Yorker, ProPublica, and WNYC radio, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-ivanka-trump-and-donald-trump-jr-avoided-a-criminal-indictment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outlined</a> how Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz -- a longtime donor to Vance’s election campaigns -- met with the district attorney before he shut down an investigation into how Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were marketing a new Trump condominium development, Trump SoHo, despite evidence compiled by his own prosecutors that the siblings may have deliberately misled investors. E-mails described by the three news outlets make clear that the Trumps “were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.”</p> <p>A $25,000 donation made by Kasowitz in early 2012 was returned by Vance’s campaign prior to his May meeting with the district attorney (“standard practice” when a donor has matters before the prosecutor’s office, Vance told The New Yorker), but records show Kasowitz made an even larger donation, of $31,993, to Vance in January 2013, that less than six months after the case was abandoned (after this reporting, Vance said he would be returning that money, too).</p> <p>Similarly, a narrow timeline can be traced between payments from two law firms representing Weinstein, made before and after he was let off the hook for allegedly groping an Italian model in his TriBeCa office, despite an audio recording, made in conjunction with the NYPD, of the movie producer apparently admitting to the incident and apologizing. The lawyer who represented Weinstein in the case, Elkan Abramowitz, is a partner in the firm where Vance previously worked and had contributed $26,550 to Vance’s campaign over the years, including $2,100 after the case was dismissed, as <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/12/weinsteins-lawyer-gave-thousands-to-vance-after-da-let-client-off-hook/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the New York Post. In addition, Abramowitz’s firm, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello &amp; Bohre, donated $11,500 to Vance’s election fund, according to state campaign finance records.</p> <p>Another $10,000 contribution came from attorney David Boies -- who has represented Weinstein in past high-profile cases, though none involving Vance -- after the investigation was dropped in April 2015, as <a href="http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/harvey-weinsteins-lawyer-gave-10000-manhattan-da-after-he-declined-file-sexual" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the International Business Times.</p> <p>Vance maintains that he decided each case based on its merits and denies that donations made by lawyers of his clients influenced his decisions. In the face of intense media scrutiny, he has emphasized that it is common for prosecutors to accept campaign donations from lawyers. “No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” Vance <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/cy-vance-defends-weinstein-decision.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> last week.</p> <p>The recent criticism over Vance’s handling of the two investigations has demonstrated how the state’s current campaign finance system can easily lead to situations that sow doubt about the credibility of New York’s top prosecutors. As county-level elected officials, district attorneys across the state, including in New York City, are governed by state law, including in their campaign activities. Therefore, the city’s five district attorneys are not subject to the city’s campaign finance system for municipal offices, which includes much more strict limitations than currently exists in state law, where little exists to limit or enforce district attorney campaign fundraising.</p> <p>Government reform advocates say these Vance cases highlight the need for public financing of all campaigns, but in particular for prosecutors and judges, who receive the bulk of their campaign contributions from lawyers and legal firms.</p> <p>“People rely on the legal system to be a fair and for [judges and prosecutors] to follow the law -- not to play favorites,” said Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group. “The campaign finance system creates an inherent conflict of interest. That’s why we’ve always argued for all races -- but certainly district attorneys and judges -- to be publically financed.”</p> <p>Due to <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/rethinking-judicial-selection-state-courts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing concerns</a> over the real or perceived influence of special interests in judicial races since the 1990s, judicial candidates are now bound by fundraising guidelines, dictated by New York State Bar Association and other ethics oversight bodies, and enforced by the Office of Court Administration. However, there are no such rules for district attorneys, of which there are 62, one in each county of the state, and the Office of Court Administration has no jurisdiction over district attorneys, according to a spokesperson for the agency.&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary ethics blueprint for prosecutors, published by the New York State District Attorneys Association, <a href="http://www.daasny.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Ethics-Handbook.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">titled</a> “The Right Thing: ethical guidelines for prosecutors,” specifies that district attorneys should avoid certain political activities, such as making others aware of their presence at political events, but makes no mention of campaign finance rules. Campaign finance is also absent from a sparse section of the New York State Bar’s “rules of professional conduct” <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/rules/jointappellate/ny-rules-prof-conduct-1200.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">handbook</a> that pertains to “prosecutors and other government lawyers.”</p> <p>By contrast, the <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook</a>, citing an opinion from the New York State Bar Association, specifies that a judge’s campaign committee “may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the judge, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the judge.”</p> <p>Judicial candidates are also instructed to avoid contributions from a party that may “reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected,” or one who has come before the candidate “so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety.” Furthermore, judicial candidates are prohibited from even looking at who contributed to their campaigns and must leave the room at fundraisers when a plea for contributions is made.</p> <p>The judicial guidelines were implemented so that judges would conduct themselves in ways that “maintain public confidence in the judiciary,” according to the handbook. It may be reasonable for prosecutors, who like judges are elected and entrusted by the public to uphold the law, to be held to a similar set of standards.</p> <p>District attorneys in the five boroughs are also not subject to New York City’s strict campaign contribution limits, which set, for example, an individual donation limit of $4,950 per cycle to a mayoral candidate, and much less so for those on the “doing business” list of entities with city business.</p> <p>According to state regulations, an individual can contribute around $34,000 to a Manhattan district attorney’s campaign (the formula caps donations at the total number of active voters in the candidate's party in the district multiplied by $0.05). There are more than 681,000 active registered Democrats in New York County, also known as Manhattan, as of April 2017. But, due to the state’s porous campaign finance rules, contributors can easily circumvent even <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these limits</a>, by donating through a company or spouse, or by creating multiple limited liability corporations, each of which it permitted to contribute up to $5,000 to county-level candidates.</p> <p><strong>A Turning Point</strong> <br />Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards young actresses has frequently been described as an “open secret” in Hollywood circles, but <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bombshell New York Times report</a> last week detailed decades of sexual harassment complaints levied against the producer, as well as secret payouts to scuttle potential law enforcement complaints, involving actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd.</p> <p>Days later, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a piece in The New Yorker</a> detailed further allegations, including several women who said they were raped by Weinstein, and embedded an NYPD recording of the mogul seemingly admitting to the Italian model, Ambra Battilana -- who was wearing a police wire -- that he had groped her breasts the day before. Vance’s office, charged with investigating the forcible touching incident, ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. Since the story was published, allegations about the producer have piled up, with numerous high-profile actresses -- including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale -- and other lesser-known actresses adding their voices to the chorus women claiming they were victimized by Weinstein.</p> <p>The public backlash to the reports has been fierce, with many calling for Vance to resign and the National Organization of Women <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171013/civic-center/now-harvey-weinstein-cy-vance-sexual-harassment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demanding</a> a “full accounting” of his decision in the Weinstein case. A steady stream of New York elected officials have denounced Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor, and announced that they would return or give to charity donations he made to their election campaigns. And with Donald Trump and his family rising to power, many are questioning whether immunity from criminal charges is at least in part dependent upon campaign donations.</p> <p>Defendings its decision last week, Vance’s office released <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a> that while the behavior alleged in recent reports about Weinstein “shocks the conscience,” at the time, the recording did not provide sufficient evidence to prosecute.</p> <p>“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct in 2015, we would have,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo, in <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>. “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD - without our knowledge or input - arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein...While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”</p> <p>In subsequent days, given the new reports, Vance’s office confirmed it was working with the NYPD to investigate allegations against Weinstein.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Vance has been cruising unchallenged toward reelection this fall. Yet, over the last four years his campaign has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, with funds coming mostly from lawyers and law firms, and has nearly $1 million left in the bank. In July, he raised $322,832.12, mostly from lawyers, and spent $358,061.43, leaving him with $1,305,989.18 in the bank, according to his filings with the State Board of Elections. Since the Democratic primary in September, he raised $18,400 and spent $399,084.31, leaving him with $925,333.49, according to his 32-day pre-general election <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=C36419&amp;rdate_in=06-OCT-2017&amp;reportid_in=D&amp;eyear_in=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">filings</a>.</p> <p>The newfound scrutiny of Vance’s campaign finances has placed him in a sticky situation, one that some say could be avoided with new limits on district attorney campaigns, public funding of campaigns for state-level offices, or both. Vance is also now facing at least two campaigns for write-in challengers to unseat him through the November vote, where only his name will appear on the ballot.</p> <p>Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who was recently investigated by Vance’s office himself, with no charges filed -- maintain that it is important to trust the system and that prosecutors are acting in good faith, and lawyers and prosecutors who have interacted with Vance told Gotham Gazette that he has a reputation as a “straight shooter.” However, experts on judicial conduct say that even those with the best intentions may overestimate their own immunity to bias.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of literature out there on unconscious and unintentional bias with respect to financial conflicts of interest,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The long and the short of it is that people are often poor judges of how they are influenced by financial conflicts of interest, and often take actions that seem unbiased to themselves, but will have the appearance of corruption to outsiders.”</p> <p>Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March and is known for efforts to weed out corruption on Wall Street and in state government, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Vance on Friday.</p> <p>“It's time that candidates for local District Attorney just say no to campaign donations from criminal defense lawyers,” Bharara <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/918692649158053888" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweeted</a>, later adding that there should only be public financing for district attorney candidates.</p> <p>While public financing may be ideal, and is perhaps the “cleanest” way to prevent many conflicts, there may also be legal precedent for the passage of state law prohibiting who can contribute to a district attorney’s campaign, according to Horner.</p> <p>“You’ve got to be careful how you develop a law that restricts donations, because there are First Amendment issues that come up, but I think it can be done,” said Horner, noting about half the states in the country have some restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions.</p> <p>“It’s a clumsy process and someone has to enforce it,” he added, noting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ethics advisory board that currently only has jurisdiction over lobbyists and state-level officials, could be incorporated through legislation.</p> <p>News came on Monday morning that Manhattan Assemblymember Dan Quart <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plans to introduce a bill</a> to drastically reform how district attorney campaigns are governed in terms of who they can take donations from and what the caps on those donations would be, as reported by The Daily News.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Vance emphasized to reporters that his fundraising standards were legal, and said that he had a “very sound vetting system.” But he acknowledged, in the wake of the controversies, he would be open to reexamining those practices.</p> <p>“It obviously calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle the matter going forward," he said. "So, in answer, it’s absolutely legal, but [campaign donations] should be re-examined, office by office.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign declined to elaborate on these adjustments when Gotham Gazette inquired.</p> <p>On Sunday, Vance published <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Daily News op-ed</a> in which he defended himself and announced that there will be an independent review of how his campaign has handled contributions, leading to recommendations for future operations, in order “to help us radically reduce the appearance of influence of money in our work.” Vance promised higher standards than required, writing, “notwithstanding New York’s lax campaign finance laws and sky-high contribution limits, I’m prepared to dramatically restrict who can donate money to our campaign — including lawyers — and the amounts that our contributors are able to give.”</p> <p>In the op-ed, Vance said <a href="http://www.law.columbia.edu/public-integrity/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity</a> at Columbia Law School would run the review of his campaign fundraising and larger campaign fundraising practices by district attorneys. The Center is run by Jennifer Rodgers, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who in a Friday interview with Gotham Gazette said she was not familiar with all the details of the situation, but defended Vance’s character and criticized the larger campaign finance system he’s operating within.</p> <p>“It’s very easy after the fact to second guess whether he made the right decision,” Rodgers said, adding that “reasonable people can differ” on whether certain cases may brought, but that she hadn’t seen anything to make her think Vance did anything inappropriate. “He always struck me as a straight guy,” she said, “and I don’t think that this notion that he’s dirty and is somehow on the payroll is valid.”</p> <p>Now, it will be up to Rodgers and CAPI to make recommendations to Vance that will undoubtedly reverberate to a much wider audience. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Vance wrote</a>, “I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue. Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/reset_1/cy_vance_crop_manhattan_da.jpg" alt="cy vance crop manhattan da" width="600" height="331" /></p> <p>Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., was recently dragged into an unflattering spotlight over his decision not to prosecute disgraced movie producer Harvey Weinstein for a forcible touching incident in 2015 and for dropping a fraud investigation into members of the Trump family in a 2012, while apparently receiving campaign contributions from lawyers associated with both parties.</p> <p>While it is not illegal - or uncommon - for district attorneys to accept contributions from lawyers in any type of practice, the details of the two cases, including the relevant campaign donations, are drawing newfound scrutiny to the state’s loose campaign finance rules for prosecutors and invite a new strain of age-old questions about whether legal immunity can be bought by the rich and powerful.</p> <p>District attorneys, through their election campaigns -- which are not bound by New York City’s strict fundraising and spending limits -- can receive tens of thousands of dollars from a single donor, including lawyers, regardless of whether the attorney has business before the office. Government reform advocates, including former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, say there are systemic issues at play and are calling for campaign finance reform, including a serious look at public financing for all state-level officials. Some say district attorney candidates should be subject to the same fundraising restrictions as judicial candidates to prevent real or perceived bias or conflicts of interest.</p> <p>Currently, candidates for district attorney operate in one of the many largely unseen areas of state campaign finance law and enforcement, with minimal rules and almost no oversight. District attorney campaigns file disclosures through the state Board of Elections, but there is little evidence that those filings are examined closely -- <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7058-rochester-mayor-accused-of-circumventing-campaign-finance-rules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an apparently statewide issue</a> wherein regulators pay scant attention to campaigns for local offices.</p> <p>Recent reporting from The New Yorker, ProPublica, and WNYC radio, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/how-ivanka-trump-and-donald-trump-jr-avoided-a-criminal-indictment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">outlined</a> how Trump family attorney Marc Kasowitz -- a longtime donor to Vance’s election campaigns -- met with the district attorney before he shut down an investigation into how Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were marketing a new Trump condominium development, Trump SoHo, despite evidence compiled by his own prosecutors that the siblings may have deliberately misled investors. E-mails described by the three news outlets make clear that the Trumps “were aware they were using inflated figures about how well the condos were selling to lure buyers.”</p> <p>A $25,000 donation made by Kasowitz in early 2012 was returned by Vance’s campaign prior to his May meeting with the district attorney (“standard practice” when a donor has matters before the prosecutor’s office, Vance told The New Yorker), but records show Kasowitz made an even larger donation, of $31,993, to Vance in January 2013, that less than six months after the case was abandoned (after this reporting, Vance said he would be returning that money, too).</p> <p>Similarly, a narrow timeline can be traced between payments from two law firms representing Weinstein, made before and after he was let off the hook for allegedly groping an Italian model in his TriBeCa office, despite an audio recording, made in conjunction with the NYPD, of the movie producer apparently admitting to the incident and apologizing. The lawyer who represented Weinstein in the case, Elkan Abramowitz, is a partner in the firm where Vance previously worked and had contributed $26,550 to Vance’s campaign over the years, including $2,100 after the case was dismissed, as <a href="http://nypost.com/2017/10/12/weinsteins-lawyer-gave-thousands-to-vance-after-da-let-client-off-hook/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the New York Post. In addition, Abramowitz’s firm, Morvillo, Abramowitz, Grand, Iason, Anello &amp; Bohre, donated $11,500 to Vance’s election fund, according to state campaign finance records.</p> <p>Another $10,000 contribution came from attorney David Boies -- who has represented Weinstein in past high-profile cases, though none involving Vance -- after the investigation was dropped in April 2015, as <a href="http://www.ibtimes.com/political-capital/harvey-weinsteins-lawyer-gave-10000-manhattan-da-after-he-declined-file-sexual" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">first reported</a> by the International Business Times.</p> <p>Vance maintains that he decided each case based on its merits and denies that donations made by lawyers of his clients influenced his decisions. In the face of intense media scrutiny, he has emphasized that it is common for prosecutors to accept campaign donations from lawyers. “No contribution ever in my seven years as district attorney has ever had any influence on my decision-making in a case,” Vance <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/nyregion/cy-vance-defends-weinstein-decision.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">told reporters</a> last week.</p> <p>The recent criticism over Vance’s handling of the two investigations has demonstrated how the state’s current campaign finance system can easily lead to situations that sow doubt about the credibility of New York’s top prosecutors. As county-level elected officials, district attorneys across the state, including in New York City, are governed by state law, including in their campaign activities. Therefore, the city’s five district attorneys are not subject to the city’s campaign finance system for municipal offices, which includes much more strict limitations than currently exists in state law, where little exists to limit or enforce district attorney campaign fundraising.</p> <p>Government reform advocates say these Vance cases highlight the need for public financing of all campaigns, but in particular for prosecutors and judges, who receive the bulk of their campaign contributions from lawyers and legal firms.</p> <p>“People rely on the legal system to be a fair and for [judges and prosecutors] to follow the law -- not to play favorites,” said Blair Horner, executive director of New York Public Interest Group. “The campaign finance system creates an inherent conflict of interest. That’s why we’ve always argued for all races -- but certainly district attorneys and judges -- to be publically financed.”</p> <p>Due to <a href="https://www.brennancenter.org/publication/rethinking-judicial-selection-state-courts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing concerns</a> over the real or perceived influence of special interests in judicial races since the 1990s, judicial candidates are now bound by fundraising guidelines, dictated by New York State Bar Association and other ethics oversight bodies, and enforced by the Office of Court Administration. However, there are no such rules for district attorneys, of which there are 62, one in each county of the state, and the Office of Court Administration has no jurisdiction over district attorneys, according to a spokesperson for the agency.&nbsp;</p> <p>The primary ethics blueprint for prosecutors, published by the New York State District Attorneys Association, <a href="http://www.daasny.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2015-Ethics-Handbook.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">titled</a> “The Right Thing: ethical guidelines for prosecutors,” specifies that district attorneys should avoid certain political activities, such as making others aware of their presence at political events, but makes no mention of campaign finance rules. Campaign finance is also absent from a sparse section of the New York State Bar’s “rules of professional conduct” <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/rules/jointappellate/ny-rules-prof-conduct-1200.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">handbook</a> that pertains to “prosecutors and other government lawyers.”</p> <p>By contrast, the <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook</a>, citing an opinion from the New York State Bar Association, specifies that a judge’s campaign committee “may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the judge, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the judge.”</p> <p>Judicial candidates are also instructed to avoid contributions from a party that may “reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected,” or one who has come before the candidate “so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety.” Furthermore, judicial candidates are prohibited from even looking at who contributed to their campaigns and must leave the room at fundraisers when a plea for contributions is made.</p> <p>The judicial guidelines were implemented so that judges would conduct themselves in ways that “maintain public confidence in the judiciary,” according to the handbook. It may be reasonable for prosecutors, who like judges are elected and entrusted by the public to uphold the law, to be held to a similar set of standards.</p> <p>District attorneys in the five boroughs are also not subject to New York City’s strict campaign contribution limits, which set, for example, an individual donation limit of $4,950 per cycle to a mayoral candidate, and much less so for those on the “doing business” list of entities with city business.</p> <p>According to state regulations, an individual can contribute around $34,000 to a Manhattan district attorney’s campaign (the formula caps donations at the total number of active voters in the candidate's party in the district multiplied by $0.05). There are more than 681,000 active registered Democrats in New York County, also known as Manhattan, as of April 2017. But, due to the state’s porous campaign finance rules, contributors can easily circumvent even <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/CFContributionLimits.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these limits</a>, by donating through a company or spouse, or by creating multiple limited liability corporations, each of which it permitted to contribute up to $5,000 to county-level candidates.</p> <p><strong>A Turning Point</strong> <br />Weinstein’s predatory behavior towards young actresses has frequently been described as an “open secret” in Hollywood circles, but <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/05/us/harvey-weinstein-harassment-allegations.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a bombshell New York Times report</a> last week detailed decades of sexual harassment complaints levied against the producer, as well as secret payouts to scuttle potential law enforcement complaints, involving actresses like Rose McGowan and Ashley Judd.</p> <p>Days later, <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-aggressive-overtures-to-sexual-assault-harvey-weinsteins-accusers-tell-their-stories" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a piece in The New Yorker</a> detailed further allegations, including several women who said they were raped by Weinstein, and embedded an NYPD recording of the mogul seemingly admitting to the Italian model, Ambra Battilana -- who was wearing a police wire -- that he had groped her breasts the day before. Vance’s office, charged with investigating the forcible touching incident, ultimately declined to prosecute Weinstein. Since the story was published, allegations about the producer have piled up, with numerous high-profile actresses -- including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Beckinsale -- and other lesser-known actresses adding their voices to the chorus women claiming they were victimized by Weinstein.</p> <p>The public backlash to the reports has been fierce, with many calling for Vance to resign and the National Organization of Women <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20171013/civic-center/now-harvey-weinstein-cy-vance-sexual-harassment" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demanding</a> a “full accounting” of his decision in the Weinstein case. A steady stream of New York elected officials have denounced Weinstein, who is a major Democratic donor, and announced that they would return or give to charity donations he made to their election campaigns. And with Donald Trump and his family rising to power, many are questioning whether immunity from criminal charges is at least in part dependent upon campaign donations.</p> <p>Defendings its decision last week, Vance’s office released <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a> that while the behavior alleged in recent reports about Weinstein “shocks the conscience,” at the time, the recording did not provide sufficient evidence to prosecute.</p> <p>“If we could have prosecuted Harvey Weinstein for the conduct in 2015, we would have,” said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karen Friedman Agnifilo, in <a href="https://twitter.com/ManhattanDA/status/917817582048174080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a statement</a>. “After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD - without our knowledge or input - arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein...While the recording is horrifying to listen to, what emerged from the audio was insufficient to prove a crime under New York law, which requires prosecutors to establish criminal intent.”</p> <p>In subsequent days, given the new reports, Vance’s office confirmed it was working with the NYPD to investigate allegations against Weinstein.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Vance has been cruising unchallenged toward reelection this fall. Yet, over the last four years his campaign has raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, with funds coming mostly from lawyers and law firms, and has nearly $1 million left in the bank. In July, he raised $322,832.12, mostly from lawyers, and spent $358,061.43, leaving him with $1,305,989.18 in the bank, according to his filings with the State Board of Elections. Since the Democratic primary in September, he raised $18,400 and spent $399,084.31, leaving him with $925,333.49, according to his 32-day pre-general election <a href="http://www.elections.ny.gov:8080/plsql_browser/efs_summary_page?comid_in=C36419&amp;rdate_in=06-OCT-2017&amp;reportid_in=D&amp;eyear_in=2017" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">filings</a>.</p> <p>The newfound scrutiny of Vance’s campaign finances has placed him in a sticky situation, one that some say could be avoided with new limits on district attorney campaigns, public funding of campaigns for state-level offices, or both. Vance is also now facing at least two campaigns for write-in challengers to unseat him through the November vote, where only his name will appear on the ballot.</p> <p>Some, including Mayor Bill de Blasio -- who was recently investigated by Vance’s office himself, with no charges filed -- maintain that it is important to trust the system and that prosecutors are acting in good faith, and lawyers and prosecutors who have interacted with Vance told Gotham Gazette that he has a reputation as a “straight shooter.” However, experts on judicial conduct say that even those with the best intentions may overestimate their own immunity to bias.</p> <p>“There’s a lot of literature out there on unconscious and unintentional bias with respect to financial conflicts of interest,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The long and the short of it is that people are often poor judges of how they are influenced by financial conflicts of interest, and often take actions that seem unbiased to themselves, but will have the appearance of corruption to outsiders.”</p> <p>Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired by President Donald Trump in March and is known for efforts to weed out corruption on Wall Street and in state government, weighed in on the controversy surrounding Vance on Friday.</p> <p>“It's time that candidates for local District Attorney just say no to campaign donations from criminal defense lawyers,” Bharara <a href="https://twitter.com/PreetBharara/status/918692649158053888" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tweeted</a>, later adding that there should only be public financing for district attorney candidates.</p> <p>While public financing may be ideal, and is perhaps the “cleanest” way to prevent many conflicts, there may also be legal precedent for the passage of state law prohibiting who can contribute to a district attorney’s campaign, according to Horner.</p> <p>“You’ve got to be careful how you develop a law that restricts donations, because there are First Amendment issues that come up, but I think it can be done,” said Horner, noting about half the states in the country have some restrictions on the ability of lobbyists to make campaign contributions.</p> <p>“It’s a clumsy process and someone has to enforce it,” he added, noting that the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, an ethics advisory board that currently only has jurisdiction over lobbyists and state-level officials, could be incorporated through legislation.</p> <p>News came on Monday morning that Manhattan Assemblymember Dan Quart <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/lovett-da-funding-scrutiny-inspires-bill-curbing-donations-article-1.3565707" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plans to introduce a bill</a> to drastically reform how district attorney campaigns are governed in terms of who they can take donations from and what the caps on those donations would be, as reported by The Daily News.</p> <p>On Wednesday, Vance emphasized to reporters that his fundraising standards were legal, and said that he had a “very sound vetting system.” But he acknowledged, in the wake of the controversies, he would be open to reexamining those practices.</p> <p>“It obviously calls for an opportunity like this for me to rethink with my assistants how we wish to handle the matter going forward," he said. "So, in answer, it’s absolutely legal, but [campaign donations] should be re-examined, office by office.”</p> <p>A spokesperson for Vance’s reelection campaign declined to elaborate on these adjustments when Gotham Gazette inquired.</p> <p>On Sunday, Vance published <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a Daily News op-ed</a> in which he defended himself and announced that there will be an independent review of how his campaign has handled contributions, leading to recommendations for future operations, in order “to help us radically reduce the appearance of influence of money in our work.” Vance promised higher standards than required, writing, “notwithstanding New York’s lax campaign finance laws and sky-high contribution limits, I’m prepared to dramatically restrict who can donate money to our campaign — including lawyers — and the amounts that our contributors are able to give.”</p> <p>In the op-ed, Vance said <a href="http://www.law.columbia.edu/public-integrity/about" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity</a> at Columbia Law School would run the review of his campaign fundraising and larger campaign fundraising practices by district attorneys. The Center is run by Jennifer Rodgers, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who in a Friday interview with Gotham Gazette said she was not familiar with all the details of the situation, but defended Vance’s character and criticized the larger campaign finance system he’s operating within.</p> <p>“It’s very easy after the fact to second guess whether he made the right decision,” Rodgers said, adding that “reasonable people can differ” on whether certain cases may brought, but that she hadn’t seen anything to make her think Vance did anything inappropriate. “He always struck me as a straight guy,” she said, “and I don’t think that this notion that he’s dirty and is somehow on the payroll is valid.”</p> <p>Now, it will be up to Rodgers and CAPI to make recommendations to Vance that will undoubtedly reverberate to a much wider audience. <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cy-vance-review-appearance-money-affects-work-article-1.3565146?cid=bitly" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">As Vance wrote</a>, “I never intended to start a conversation about money in criminal justice. But I see now that it’s long overdue. Campaign finance reform is criminal justice reform, and I have a unique opportunity to push the ball forward.”</p> <p>

***
by Rachel Silberstein, State government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Thousands of Low-Profile Cases Could Turn on Police Body Camera Footage 2017-04-18T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6879:thousands-of-low-profile-cases-could-turn-on-police-body-camera-footage Ben Max <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/nypdnews-twitter-2014-vievu.jpg" alt="nypdnews twitter 2014 vievu" width="600" height="394" /></p> <p>(photo: @NYPDnews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In June 2016, the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law co-sponsored<a href="https://policingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Report-to-the-NYPD-Summarizing-Public-Feedback-on-BWC-Policy.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> a study</a> with the NYPD to assess sentiments regarding police body cameras, part of an effort to influence department policy as body cameras become worn by an increasing number of patrol officers. The NYPD has been gradually outfitting its officers with body cameras, in part as a result of a court order, with an initial rollout of <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/nypd-wrapping-up-body-camera-pilot-program-1456916402" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">54 cameras in 2014</a>, and 1,200 more to be added to the force this year. As part of a new contract with the city’s patrol officers union, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in early 2017 that all 23,000 patrol officers would be wearing body cameras by 2019.</p> <p dir="ltr">In implementing a body camera program, the NYPD must outline the protocols that would guide everything from circumstances under which officers must activate their cameras to the proper method of releasing footage.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Policing Project survey, which remained open for 40 days, received 25,126 responses from “individuals who identified themselves as living, working, or attending school in New York,” as well as 5,419 police officers. In <a href="http://nypdnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/NYPD_BWC-Response-to-Officer-and-Public-Input.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a study</a> conducted concurrently by the Marron Institute of Urban Management at NYU, police officers answered similar questions and were encouraged to participate by Pat Lynch, the President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), who posted the questionnaire on the union website within days of its launch.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the many themes in the study was the ongoing question of a defense attorney’s ability to access police body camera footage in the cases they handle with clients, who are charged with a crime by a local district attorney. Public defenders, who handle a large percentage of cases brought against poor New Yorkers, are particularly concerned about rules governing the usage of body cameras and access to footage. There were 314,870 arrests made by the NYPD in 2016, most of which were for non-violent crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Discovery law -- the process by which defense lawyers are given access to materials by District Attorneys in cases and plea negotiations -- is inconsistently implemented across the five New York City boroughs, according to public defenders. As body cameras become ubiquitous in the NYPD -- by 2019, all<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/826543006870360068"> </a><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/059-17/mayor-de-blasio-patrolmen-s-benevolent-association-reach-tentative-five-year-agreement-#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">members of the PBA will be wearing one</a> -- there is increased pressure from public defenders and advocacy groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, the Bronx Defenders, and the New York City Civil Liberties Union (who all submitted their own responses to the surveys) to develop comprehensive laws surrounding police-worn body cameras.</p> <p dir="ltr">When Mayor de Blasio and the PBA announced their new contract deal, the mayor said, “this agreement provides the compensation and benefits the world’s finest police department deserves, while outfitting the entire force with body cameras and delivering the transparency and policing reforms at the center of effective and trusted law enforcement.” Transparency is the lynchpin underlying calls for the proliferation of body cameras within the NYPD (and other police departments around the country); but some fear that NYPD policy and district attorney practices will not uphold the rhetoric espoused by the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">While police body cameras are often discussed in the context of major incidents of police brutality, it is the many thousands of lower-profile interactions between officers and members of the public that will make for virtually all of the footage taken by such cameras. Police body cameras will capture hundreds of thousands of low-level arrests each year, as well as circumstances around felonies, contentious and harmonious exchanges between police and the public, and instances where people feel that they are treated wrongly by the police and wind up bringing their own legal action.</p> <p dir="ltr">Police body cameras are heralded by many, including de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, and others, as a key accountability and transparency tool. But, they also open what could be a Pandora’s Box of questions and potential pitfalls. Rules for recording and disclosure are being closely tracked by those who will be directly involved in many of the cases where body camera footage will be a factor, and red flags are being raised.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, “the way prosecutors interpret discovery laws in New York State and criminal procedure law really allows the prosecutor to delay what he or she is revealing, causing many people to plead guilty before potentially vital evidence is disclosed." This can place public defenders in difficult positions – if prosecutor determines that body camera footage isn't relevant to a case, the public defender may never see it.</p> <p dir="ltr">While key factors in many legal proceedings involving police body cameras will be when the camera is turned on (and off) and what is recorded, it is illegal for prosecutors to withhold footage that could exonerate a defendant.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Debora Silberman, senior staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, “prosecutors have an obligation under [the] Brady [Bill] that they are required, if there is exculpatory video, they're obligated, [by] ethical and constitutional obligations under the law, to turn that over to us, and to make that known to us.” But this doesn't necessarily mean that a public defender will have access to body camera footage, even if it does exist.</p> <p dir="ltr">Conti-Cook of Legal Aid said that if there is a recording from a body camera that was not evidence a prosecutor wants to produce in support of their case, either because it exonerated the defendant or in any way undermined police testimony or other evidence, then the way that prosecutors work, the prosecutor will likely withhold that evidence until the day of trial, hoping for a guilty plea before they were forced to disclose.</p> <p dir="ltr">When contacted for comment, multiple representatives for District Attorney offices disputed this. They claimed that the Supreme Court decision of Brady v Maryland, which established that prosecutors must turn over all exculpatory evidence, meant that body camera footage would have to be given to public defenders, regardless of whether that footage was favorable to a defendant or a police officer and D.A.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, some public defenders have expressed doubt that it is so cut and dry and closely followed in all cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">As things stand now, public defenders are looking forward to the proliferation of body cameras, largely so they can contextualize cases. A problem that defenders often point to is the short amount of time they’re given to prepare a case for a defendant. According to Conti-Cook “We have attorneys in Manhattan who don't learn the names of the complaining witnesses until the day before or the day of trial. And there's no way that you can prepare a case without having that information. So the night before they're always scrambling with coming up with a quick investigation, you prepare for the next day. But it really puts us systematically at a disadvantage when it comes to counselling our clients.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains unclear if body camera footage will help ease this phenomenon by providing more context, or simply be another data point that public defenders need to scramble for in the final hours before a case.</p> <p dir="ltr">The issue of evidence disclosure, including of body camera footage, is relevant to various cases, those that are tried in court and those settled pretrial. According to Silberman of Brooklyn Defender Services, “many of our cases end in a plea bargain, prior to a pretrial hearing, so we don't get the benefit of challenging the constitutionality of the search or the approach of our client...we don't get to challenge whether the police officer's observation were true or accurate, or whether they make sense in the context of the allegation.” If public defenders are able to refer to body camera footage to ascertain the full circumstances surrounding a case, they may have more leverage and even avoid some plea bargains altogether.</p> <p dir="ltr">One public defender presented a hypothetical situation as an example. A police officer is legally allowed to search a person if the officer believes they witness an exchange of drugs take place. But what if that officer is 50 feet away from the exchange when it happens, and it’s not clear what they were actually capable of seeing at the time? Body camera footage could corroborate or disprove an officer’s account of events.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even if a search yields the discovery of drugs, Silberman sees how body camera footage could be used on behalf of a defendant. “Very often, when we suspect that there has been an illegal approach of our client, and illegal search of our client, and illegal car stop, a car search, of either the car or the house, we would be challenging the constitutional grounds for the search or the approach,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Silberman also sees what she thinks can at times be the officer point of view, saying, “I think it can be easy to justify illegal behavior by convincing oneself that taking a gun off the street or taking the drugs off the street was worth the search.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“[S]o few of our cases get to the stage where we get to challenge their observation,” Silberman added. “Most of our cases plea out. Which means that you're entering a plea, you're taking a misdemeanor or a felony and possibly jail time, or probation. Before you even get to that stage, very often a prosecutor will say to you, ‘look, if I have to go to a hearing, my offer's off the table.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">There are many more pretrial hearings, when a district attorney offers evidence and a potential plea deal, than trials. “Only when you do a pretrial hearing do you get to challenge the constitutionality of the search or the approach, search through the vehicle, search of the client, search of the house,” Silberman said. “If we had a video of the kinds of observations that were made, it would be a completely different ballgame. But it's so infrequent that we even get to a stage to challenge the officer's testimony or perspective.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Right now, both district attorneys and public defenders agree that police body cameras will have a positive impact. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that he “has long supported the use of police body cameras, which increase the civility of interactions with residents, reduce false complaints against officers, and provide potentially vital evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the question of discovery, Vance's spokesperson said, “Our office will meet our legal obligations to provide this material in discovery, as we do with all evidence. We are confident in our ability to efficiently and effectively utilize and produce body camera evidence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing a point made by Vance, de Blasio, and others, Silberman of Brooklyn Defender Services thinks that police officers will be aided by body cameras too, saying that they “benefit public safety and officer safety. Just as much as we're concerned about the truth coming out, so are police officers. Police officers also have to deal with people making accusations of falsehoods, whether they're saying something that's not true, or whether they were being too aggressive. And if an officer is acting in accordance with the law, that is justifying all the actions that he took.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State Senator Daniel Squadron, who had co-written<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/sites/default/files/articles/attachments/bwc_nypd_letter_2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> a letter</a> with Assemblymember Dan Quart and Public Advocate James asking for more transparency from the NYPD, agrees. One detail that concerned Squadron, Quart, and James related to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In their letter to then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, the three elected officials outlined their worry that the cost of filing a FOIL request for body camera footage was “prohibitive” ($36,000, per the example they cited), and the procedure by which the NYPD could redact footage would undermine the ostensible purpose of body cameras: increased transparency.</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, Bratton wrote that “our working group is proceeding as expeditiously as possible, trying to balance public transparency and individual privacy.” He cited the NYU Policing Project study and closed his letter assuring the three officials that the NYPD was “exploring all options for the use of body-worn cameras by our police officers.” Bratton has since retired from the NYPD and been replaced by Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Senator Squadron said, “Body cameras can protect officers and civilians alike, but it's critical that transparency be a central component,” Squadron added he will “push to ensure that transparency and safeguarding privacy are cornerstones of body camera policies." Squadron didn’t address specific questions about district attorneys turning over body camera footage.</p> <p dir="ltr">The concurrent NYU/NYPD study did address the way in which the NYPD or district attorneys would disclose body-camera footage in criminal and civil proceedings. In conjunction with the release of the Policing Project survey results, the released NYPD <a href="http://nypdnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/NYPD_BWC-Response-to-Officer-and-Public-Input.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its assessment</a> of the survey and its new draft policy for body-worn cameras. The NYPD rejected some recommendations from the Policing Project and accepted others. “Arresting officers will provide the assigned prosecutor with access to all BWC video related to an arrest utilizing the Body Worn Camera video management system,” the NYPD writes. Notably, the NYPD did not stipulate how the assigned prosecutor should then release the footage to public defenders.</p> <p dir="ltr">To Nick Malinowski, formerly of Brooklyn Defender Services and now at Vocal-NY, a grassroots organizing group, the new NYPD protocol is not enough. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Malinowski said, “Body cameras in and of themselves are neither good, nor bad. The way they are used, who has access to the footage, matters. There is not much in the current NYPD plan to suggest it will improve transparency or accountability and certainly the history of the NYPD in this regard does not give us confidence; instead we really should understand this pilot project as an expansion of police power and surveillance.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2015, there were a total of 306,695 dispositions across all five district attorney borough offices, according <a href="http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/dispos/nyc.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to data</a> from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. When Gotham Gazette contacted the five DA offices, none were able to provide precise data on the number of dispositions in which body camera footage was used as evidence. As the NYPD rolls out its body camera program, that fact is likely to change.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has pledged that body cameras are “delivering the transparency and policing reforms at the center of effective and trusted law enforcement.” A lot will depend on how the cameras are used and what footage is made available to both defendants and their attorneys, and the broader public. Silberman believes that body cameras “really speak to truth and justice. This is really what our adversarial system is all about. They would speak to what actually happened. It would give us a constitutional perspective on the incident at hand, and the incident in question.”</p> <p>

***
by Elena Burger, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/nypdnews-twitter-2014-vievu.jpg" alt="nypdnews twitter 2014 vievu" width="600" height="394" /></p> <p>(photo: @NYPDnews)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">In June 2016, the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law co-sponsored<a href="https://policingproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Report-to-the-NYPD-Summarizing-Public-Feedback-on-BWC-Policy.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> a study</a> with the NYPD to assess sentiments regarding police body cameras, part of an effort to influence department policy as body cameras become worn by an increasing number of patrol officers. The NYPD has been gradually outfitting its officers with body cameras, in part as a result of a court order, with an initial rollout of <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/nypd-wrapping-up-body-camera-pilot-program-1456916402" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">54 cameras in 2014</a>, and 1,200 more to be added to the force this year. As part of a new contract with the city’s patrol officers union, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in early 2017 that all 23,000 patrol officers would be wearing body cameras by 2019.</p> <p dir="ltr">In implementing a body camera program, the NYPD must outline the protocols that would guide everything from circumstances under which officers must activate their cameras to the proper method of releasing footage.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Policing Project survey, which remained open for 40 days, received 25,126 responses from “individuals who identified themselves as living, working, or attending school in New York,” as well as 5,419 police officers. In <a href="http://nypdnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/NYPD_BWC-Response-to-Officer-and-Public-Input.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a study</a> conducted concurrently by the Marron Institute of Urban Management at NYU, police officers answered similar questions and were encouraged to participate by Pat Lynch, the President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), who posted the questionnaire on the union website within days of its launch.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of the many themes in the study was the ongoing question of a defense attorney’s ability to access police body camera footage in the cases they handle with clients, who are charged with a crime by a local district attorney. Public defenders, who handle a large percentage of cases brought against poor New Yorkers, are particularly concerned about rules governing the usage of body cameras and access to footage. There were 314,870 arrests made by the NYPD in 2016, most of which were for non-violent crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Discovery law -- the process by which defense lawyers are given access to materials by District Attorneys in cases and plea negotiations -- is inconsistently implemented across the five New York City boroughs, according to public defenders. As body cameras become ubiquitous in the NYPD -- by 2019, all<a href="https://twitter.com/NYCMayor/status/826543006870360068"> </a><a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/059-17/mayor-de-blasio-patrolmen-s-benevolent-association-reach-tentative-five-year-agreement-#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">members of the PBA will be wearing one</a> -- there is increased pressure from public defenders and advocacy groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, the Bronx Defenders, and the New York City Civil Liberties Union (who all submitted their own responses to the surveys) to develop comprehensive laws surrounding police-worn body cameras.</p> <p dir="ltr">When Mayor de Blasio and the PBA announced their new contract deal, the mayor said, “this agreement provides the compensation and benefits the world’s finest police department deserves, while outfitting the entire force with body cameras and delivering the transparency and policing reforms at the center of effective and trusted law enforcement.” Transparency is the lynchpin underlying calls for the proliferation of body cameras within the NYPD (and other police departments around the country); but some fear that NYPD policy and district attorney practices will not uphold the rhetoric espoused by the mayor.</p> <p dir="ltr">While police body cameras are often discussed in the context of major incidents of police brutality, it is the many thousands of lower-profile interactions between officers and members of the public that will make for virtually all of the footage taken by such cameras. Police body cameras will capture hundreds of thousands of low-level arrests each year, as well as circumstances around felonies, contentious and harmonious exchanges between police and the public, and instances where people feel that they are treated wrongly by the police and wind up bringing their own legal action.</p> <p dir="ltr">Police body cameras are heralded by many, including de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, and others, as a key accountability and transparency tool. But, they also open what could be a Pandora’s Box of questions and potential pitfalls. Rules for recording and disclosure are being closely tracked by those who will be directly involved in many of the cases where body camera footage will be a factor, and red flags are being raised.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Cynthia Conti-Cook, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society, “the way prosecutors interpret discovery laws in New York State and criminal procedure law really allows the prosecutor to delay what he or she is revealing, causing many people to plead guilty before potentially vital evidence is disclosed." This can place public defenders in difficult positions – if prosecutor determines that body camera footage isn't relevant to a case, the public defender may never see it.</p> <p dir="ltr">While key factors in many legal proceedings involving police body cameras will be when the camera is turned on (and off) and what is recorded, it is illegal for prosecutors to withhold footage that could exonerate a defendant.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Debora Silberman, senior staff attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, “prosecutors have an obligation under [the] Brady [Bill] that they are required, if there is exculpatory video, they're obligated, [by] ethical and constitutional obligations under the law, to turn that over to us, and to make that known to us.” But this doesn't necessarily mean that a public defender will have access to body camera footage, even if it does exist.</p> <p dir="ltr">Conti-Cook of Legal Aid said that if there is a recording from a body camera that was not evidence a prosecutor wants to produce in support of their case, either because it exonerated the defendant or in any way undermined police testimony or other evidence, then the way that prosecutors work, the prosecutor will likely withhold that evidence until the day of trial, hoping for a guilty plea before they were forced to disclose.</p> <p dir="ltr">When contacted for comment, multiple representatives for District Attorney offices disputed this. They claimed that the Supreme Court decision of Brady v Maryland, which established that prosecutors must turn over all exculpatory evidence, meant that body camera footage would have to be given to public defenders, regardless of whether that footage was favorable to a defendant or a police officer and D.A.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, some public defenders have expressed doubt that it is so cut and dry and closely followed in all cases.</p> <p dir="ltr">As things stand now, public defenders are looking forward to the proliferation of body cameras, largely so they can contextualize cases. A problem that defenders often point to is the short amount of time they’re given to prepare a case for a defendant. According to Conti-Cook “We have attorneys in Manhattan who don't learn the names of the complaining witnesses until the day before or the day of trial. And there's no way that you can prepare a case without having that information. So the night before they're always scrambling with coming up with a quick investigation, you prepare for the next day. But it really puts us systematically at a disadvantage when it comes to counselling our clients.”</p> <p dir="ltr">It remains unclear if body camera footage will help ease this phenomenon by providing more context, or simply be another data point that public defenders need to scramble for in the final hours before a case.</p> <p dir="ltr">The issue of evidence disclosure, including of body camera footage, is relevant to various cases, those that are tried in court and those settled pretrial. According to Silberman of Brooklyn Defender Services, “many of our cases end in a plea bargain, prior to a pretrial hearing, so we don't get the benefit of challenging the constitutionality of the search or the approach of our client...we don't get to challenge whether the police officer's observation were true or accurate, or whether they make sense in the context of the allegation.” If public defenders are able to refer to body camera footage to ascertain the full circumstances surrounding a case, they may have more leverage and even avoid some plea bargains altogether.</p> <p dir="ltr">One public defender presented a hypothetical situation as an example. A police officer is legally allowed to search a person if the officer believes they witness an exchange of drugs take place. But what if that officer is 50 feet away from the exchange when it happens, and it’s not clear what they were actually capable of seeing at the time? Body camera footage could corroborate or disprove an officer’s account of events.</p> <p dir="ltr">Even if a search yields the discovery of drugs, Silberman sees how body camera footage could be used on behalf of a defendant. “Very often, when we suspect that there has been an illegal approach of our client, and illegal search of our client, and illegal car stop, a car search, of either the car or the house, we would be challenging the constitutional grounds for the search or the approach,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Silberman also sees what she thinks can at times be the officer point of view, saying, “I think it can be easy to justify illegal behavior by convincing oneself that taking a gun off the street or taking the drugs off the street was worth the search.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“[S]o few of our cases get to the stage where we get to challenge their observation,” Silberman added. “Most of our cases plea out. Which means that you're entering a plea, you're taking a misdemeanor or a felony and possibly jail time, or probation. Before you even get to that stage, very often a prosecutor will say to you, ‘look, if I have to go to a hearing, my offer's off the table.’”</p> <p dir="ltr">There are many more pretrial hearings, when a district attorney offers evidence and a potential plea deal, than trials. “Only when you do a pretrial hearing do you get to challenge the constitutionality of the search or the approach, search through the vehicle, search of the client, search of the house,” Silberman said. “If we had a video of the kinds of observations that were made, it would be a completely different ballgame. But it's so infrequent that we even get to a stage to challenge the officer's testimony or perspective.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Right now, both district attorneys and public defenders agree that police body cameras will have a positive impact. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, a spokesperson for Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said that he “has long supported the use of police body cameras, which increase the civility of interactions with residents, reduce false complaints against officers, and provide potentially vital evidence for criminal investigations and prosecutions.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the question of discovery, Vance's spokesperson said, “Our office will meet our legal obligations to provide this material in discovery, as we do with all evidence. We are confident in our ability to efficiently and effectively utilize and produce body camera evidence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Echoing a point made by Vance, de Blasio, and others, Silberman of Brooklyn Defender Services thinks that police officers will be aided by body cameras too, saying that they “benefit public safety and officer safety. Just as much as we're concerned about the truth coming out, so are police officers. Police officers also have to deal with people making accusations of falsehoods, whether they're saying something that's not true, or whether they were being too aggressive. And if an officer is acting in accordance with the law, that is justifying all the actions that he took.”</p> <p dir="ltr">State Senator Daniel Squadron, who had co-written<a href="https://www.nysenate.gov/sites/default/files/articles/attachments/bwc_nypd_letter_2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> a letter</a> with Assemblymember Dan Quart and Public Advocate James asking for more transparency from the NYPD, agrees. One detail that concerned Squadron, Quart, and James related to Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In their letter to then-NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, the three elected officials outlined their worry that the cost of filing a FOIL request for body camera footage was “prohibitive” ($36,000, per the example they cited), and the procedure by which the NYPD could redact footage would undermine the ostensible purpose of body cameras: increased transparency.</p> <p dir="ltr">In response, Bratton wrote that “our working group is proceeding as expeditiously as possible, trying to balance public transparency and individual privacy.” He cited the NYU Policing Project study and closed his letter assuring the three officials that the NYPD was “exploring all options for the use of body-worn cameras by our police officers.” Bratton has since retired from the NYPD and been replaced by Commissioner Jimmy O’Neill.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Senator Squadron said, “Body cameras can protect officers and civilians alike, but it's critical that transparency be a central component,” Squadron added he will “push to ensure that transparency and safeguarding privacy are cornerstones of body camera policies." Squadron didn’t address specific questions about district attorneys turning over body camera footage.</p> <p dir="ltr">The concurrent NYU/NYPD study did address the way in which the NYPD or district attorneys would disclose body-camera footage in criminal and civil proceedings. In conjunction with the release of the Policing Project survey results, the released NYPD <a href="http://nypdnews.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/NYPD_BWC-Response-to-Officer-and-Public-Input.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">its assessment</a> of the survey and its new draft policy for body-worn cameras. The NYPD rejected some recommendations from the Policing Project and accepted others. “Arresting officers will provide the assigned prosecutor with access to all BWC video related to an arrest utilizing the Body Worn Camera video management system,” the NYPD writes. Notably, the NYPD did not stipulate how the assigned prosecutor should then release the footage to public defenders.</p> <p dir="ltr">To Nick Malinowski, formerly of Brooklyn Defender Services and now at Vocal-NY, a grassroots organizing group, the new NYPD protocol is not enough. In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Malinowski said, “Body cameras in and of themselves are neither good, nor bad. The way they are used, who has access to the footage, matters. There is not much in the current NYPD plan to suggest it will improve transparency or accountability and certainly the history of the NYPD in this regard does not give us confidence; instead we really should understand this pilot project as an expansion of police power and surveillance.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In 2015, there were a total of 306,695 dispositions across all five district attorney borough offices, according <a href="http://www.criminaljustice.ny.gov/crimnet/ojsa/dispos/nyc.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to data</a> from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. When Gotham Gazette contacted the five DA offices, none were able to provide precise data on the number of dispositions in which body camera footage was used as evidence. As the NYPD rolls out its body camera program, that fact is likely to change.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio has pledged that body cameras are “delivering the transparency and policing reforms at the center of effective and trusted law enforcement.” A lot will depend on how the cameras are used and what footage is made available to both defendants and their attorneys, and the broader public. Silberman believes that body cameras “really speak to truth and justice. This is really what our adversarial system is all about. They would speak to what actually happened. It would give us a constitutional perspective on the incident at hand, and the incident in question.”</p> <p>

***
by Elena Burger, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
De Blasio Could Still Face Penalties in State Senate Fundraising Investigation 2017-04-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6853:de-blasio-could-still-face-penalties-in-state-senate-fundraising-investigation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32945356760_feb645f399_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio crane shadow" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance recently concluded his investigation into the effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides to funnel campaign funds to Democratic state Senate candidates in 2014. Vance did not bring any charges in the case, writing in a ten-page letter to the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had referred the case for prosecution, that “the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Vance’s decision did not entirely vindicate the mayor. He criticized de Blasio and his team for their actions that “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws,” and also wrote that his decision “does not foreclose the BOE or others from pursuing any civil or regulatory action that they determine might be warranted by these facts; such a remedy might well provide guidance to those involved in the electoral process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation -- which ran parallel to a federal investigation of the mayor’s fundraising and City Hall behavior that also concluded with no charges filed -- delved into whether the mayor and his aides had solicited and directed campaign contributions far in excess of election law limits to individual candidate committees, using county committees as intermediaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the behest of de Blasio and his associates, large donations were made to county committees, which can receive up to $102,300 from an individual, union or LLC, instead of directly to candidate committees, which can receive a maximum of $10,300. County committees can give unlimited funds to candidate committees. The money was funneled to a handful of Democratic candidate campaigns in swing districts, and largely used to pay hefty consulting fees to firms with close links to de Blasio, including BerlinRosen, AKPD, and Red Horse Strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office could not make a case for prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because of the legal advice de Blasio and his team had received that gave them the go-ahead for their maneuvers. But the BOE has a lower burden of proof for its own enforcement actions, which include civil penalties reaching thousands of dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations">De Blasio and Aides Won't Face Charges in Dual Investigations</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Under <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2016NYElectionLaw.pdf">state election law</a>, the BOE chief enforcement counsel could potentially refer a case to a hearing officer who could then determine whether “based on a preponderance of the evidence” an individual, on behalf of a candidate or campaign committee, had committed violations of the law. Based on the hearing officer’s report, the case could be settled out of court or the enforcement counsel can initiate a special proceeding in state supreme court to obtain a civil penalty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Board of Elections now does have the opportunity to determine whether or not there was a violation of the rules governing campaign activities,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group that has long called for closing holes in election law. “It is up to them now to determine whether there was a violation of the rules and whether or not to determine fault and to assign penalties based on this investigation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation found that individual contributions and transfers complied with regulations. But viewed as a whole, they showed a pattern that implied a coordinated effort to circumvent the law. “The flow of money from donor to county committee to campaign committee to consultant often occurred within days,” the DA’s letter to the BOE reads. “In most cases, the time from donation to payment of a consultant invoice was so short that the only reasonable conclusion is that the Coordinated Campaign had pre-determined the ultimate recipient of the funds at the time the donation was solicited.” (The “Coordinated Campaign” referred to de Blasio’s team.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s conclusions were similar to those that had spurred Sugarman’s referral.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance noted, for instance, that the Putnam County Democratic Committee received just over $671,000 in contributions in 2014, and within days transferred more than $640,000 to authorized candidate committees of Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner, two Democrats attempting to swing Senate seats. The most contributions that the PCDC had received in the previous five years was about $39,000 in 2012. The two committees associated with Gipson and Wagner “almost immediately expended virtually all of the funds on political consultants,” Vance wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the BOE’s letter referring the matter for prosecution leaked in April last year, the mayor alluded that it may have been politically motivated. Sugarman, the enforcement counsel, is an appointee of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a long-running feud with the mayor. At a news conference, the mayor <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/leaked-memo-calling-my-fundraising-criminal-is-political-ploy-de-blasio">said</a>, “In this instance, there is an obvious question mark around that memo that was leaked to the press and real questions about motivation and obviously huge questions about accuracy in terms of the law.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on March 17 of this year, when Gotham Gazette asked if he was concerned about the matter being referred back to the BOE and his prior allusions about it being politically motivated, de Blasio refused to comment. “I’m not going to speak to that,” he said. “I think what I’ve said in the past speaks for itself.” De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The mayor has all along insisted that he and his associates acted ethically and legally, and de Blasio disputed Vance's characterization that his team violated the spirit of the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think there’s any lack of will” for civil and regulatory action by the BOE, said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. Steiner did not address the de Blasio case in particular, but she said, “If there was a referral to a prosecutorial agency and then it was kicked back to the Board of Elections, we would have no way of knowing [its status] because it is confidential.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She also said that routine criminal prosecutions by the BOE are “fairly new” and have not been “well executed.” She added, “I don’t think their discretion is well used.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The enforcement counsel position at the BOE was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/new-independent-enforcement-unit-nys-board-elections-begins-tuesday-blog-entry-1.1923505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created</a> in 2014 as part of a deal on ethics reform between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, part of the governor’s controversial decision to shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. (This decision was itself investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which determined it had not found sufficient evidence to charge Cuomo or his associates with a crime.)</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s unclear whether the BOE will indeed move forward with any enforcement procedures in the de Blasio matter, or who the target of that enforcement would be. BOE’s Sugarman did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">After an Inspector General for the BOE identified John Conklin, a Republican BOE spokesperson, as the source of the leak, Sugarman and <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-thinks-de-blasio-owes-his-board-of-elections-appointee-an-apology/">Cuomo</a> both called on the mayor to apologize for his remarks. “Allegations were made primarily by the New York City Mayor that I leaked the report due to political motivations,” Sugarman told the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/31/gop-linked-boe-official-blamed-for-leaking-de-blasio-probe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a>, in a statement. “Now that we know the facts, I hope the mayor will apologize for maligning my integrity and professionalism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio never apologized and stood by his remarks, which he again confirmed in recent weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election law states that a person who wilfully accepts illegal over-the-limit contributions would be required to repay the amount that exceeds contribution limits, and can face a civil penalty equal to that excess amount and an additional fine of $10,000. But, in de Blasio’s case, the candidate committees that benefited from the campaign contributions were not known to be the subject of investigation and appear to have acted within the law in receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from county committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m not sure who would be penalized,” said Dadey from Citizens Union, “because often times it’s not the candidate but the committees that get penalized. So there could be some state Senate candidate committees that could be at fault as well because the mayor’s political team’s activities were there to support the candidate committees.” All of the candidates de Blasio’s team supported lost in 2014, and efforts by the mayor and his associates to flip the Senate to Democrats failed.</p> <p>“I’m not sure what the Board could do,” Dadey said, “but it’s important that they at least review the analysis of the investigation conducted by the district attorney.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/32945356760_feb645f399_z.jpg" width="600" height="401" alt="de blasio crane shadow" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio (photo:&nbsp;Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance recently concluded his investigation into the effort by Mayor Bill de Blasio and his aides to funnel campaign funds to Democratic state Senate candidates in 2014. Vance did not bring any charges in the case, writing in a ten-page letter to the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman, who had referred the case for prosecution, that “the parties involved cannot be appropriately prosecuted, given their reliance on the advice of counsel.”</p> <p dir="ltr">But, Vance’s decision did not entirely vindicate the mayor. He criticized de Blasio and his team for their actions that “appear contrary to the intent and spirit of the laws,” and also wrote that his decision “does not foreclose the BOE or others from pursuing any civil or regulatory action that they determine might be warranted by these facts; such a remedy might well provide guidance to those involved in the electoral process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation -- which ran parallel to a federal investigation of the mayor’s fundraising and City Hall behavior that also concluded with no charges filed -- delved into whether the mayor and his aides had solicited and directed campaign contributions far in excess of election law limits to individual candidate committees, using county committees as intermediaries.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the behest of de Blasio and his associates, large donations were made to county committees, which can receive up to $102,300 from an individual, union or LLC, instead of directly to candidate committees, which can receive a maximum of $10,300. County committees can give unlimited funds to candidate committees. The money was funneled to a handful of Democratic candidate campaigns in swing districts, and largely used to pay hefty consulting fees to firms with close links to de Blasio, including BerlinRosen, AKPD, and Red Horse Strategies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office could not make a case for prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt, in part because of the legal advice de Blasio and his team had received that gave them the go-ahead for their maneuvers. But the BOE has a lower burden of proof for its own enforcement actions, which include civil penalties reaching thousands of dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6812-de-blasio-and-aides-won-t-face-charges-in-dual-investigations">De Blasio and Aides Won't Face Charges in Dual Investigations</a>]</p> <p dir="ltr">Under <a href="https://www.elections.ny.gov/NYSBOE/download/law/2016NYElectionLaw.pdf">state election law</a>, the BOE chief enforcement counsel could potentially refer a case to a hearing officer who could then determine whether “based on a preponderance of the evidence” an individual, on behalf of a candidate or campaign committee, had committed violations of the law. Based on the hearing officer’s report, the case could be settled out of court or the enforcement counsel can initiate a special proceeding in state supreme court to obtain a civil penalty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Board of Elections now does have the opportunity to determine whether or not there was a violation of the rules governing campaign activities,” said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, a government reform group that has long called for closing holes in election law. “It is up to them now to determine whether there was a violation of the rules and whether or not to determine fault and to assign penalties based on this investigation.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s investigation found that individual contributions and transfers complied with regulations. But viewed as a whole, they showed a pattern that implied a coordinated effort to circumvent the law. “The flow of money from donor to county committee to campaign committee to consultant often occurred within days,” the DA’s letter to the BOE reads. “In most cases, the time from donation to payment of a consultant invoice was so short that the only reasonable conclusion is that the Coordinated Campaign had pre-determined the ultimate recipient of the funds at the time the donation was solicited.” (The “Coordinated Campaign” referred to de Blasio’s team.)</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s conclusions were similar to those that had spurred Sugarman’s referral.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance noted, for instance, that the Putnam County Democratic Committee received just over $671,000 in contributions in 2014, and within days transferred more than $640,000 to authorized candidate committees of Terry Gipson and Justin Wagner, two Democrats attempting to swing Senate seats. The most contributions that the PCDC had received in the previous five years was about $39,000 in 2012. The two committees associated with Gipson and Wagner “almost immediately expended virtually all of the funds on political consultants,” Vance wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">When the BOE’s letter referring the matter for prosecution leaked in April last year, the mayor alluded that it may have been politically motivated. Sugarman, the enforcement counsel, is an appointee of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a long-running feud with the mayor. At a news conference, the mayor <a href="https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20160425/civic-center/leaked-memo-calling-my-fundraising-criminal-is-political-ploy-de-blasio">said</a>, “In this instance, there is an obvious question mark around that memo that was leaked to the press and real questions about motivation and obviously huge questions about accuracy in terms of the law.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At a news conference on March 17 of this year, when Gotham Gazette asked if he was concerned about the matter being referred back to the BOE and his prior allusions about it being politically motivated, de Blasio refused to comment. “I’m not going to speak to that,” he said. “I think what I’ve said in the past speaks for itself.” De Blasio’s campaign spokesperson declined to comment for this article. The mayor has all along insisted that he and his associates acted ethically and legally, and de Blasio disputed Vance's characterization that his team violated the spirit of the law.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think there’s any lack of will” for civil and regulatory action by the BOE, said Sarah Steiner, an election lawyer. Steiner did not address the de Blasio case in particular, but she said, “If there was a referral to a prosecutorial agency and then it was kicked back to the Board of Elections, we would have no way of knowing [its status] because it is confidential.”</p> <p dir="ltr">She also said that routine criminal prosecutions by the BOE are “fairly new” and have not been “well executed.” She added, “I don’t think their discretion is well used.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The enforcement counsel position at the BOE was <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/dailypolitics/new-independent-enforcement-unit-nys-board-elections-begins-tuesday-blog-entry-1.1923505" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">created</a> in 2014 as part of a deal on ethics reform between Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislators, part of the governor’s controversial decision to shut down the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption. (This decision was itself investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office, which determined it had not found sufficient evidence to charge Cuomo or his associates with a crime.)</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s unclear whether the BOE will indeed move forward with any enforcement procedures in the de Blasio matter, or who the target of that enforcement would be. BOE’s Sugarman did not respond to requests for comment.</p> <p dir="ltr">After an Inspector General for the BOE identified John Conklin, a Republican BOE spokesperson, as the source of the leak, Sugarman and <a href="http://observer.com/2016/06/cuomo-thinks-de-blasio-owes-his-board-of-elections-appointee-an-apology/">Cuomo</a> both called on the mayor to apologize for his remarks. “Allegations were made primarily by the New York City Mayor that I leaked the report due to political motivations,” Sugarman told the <a href="http://nypost.com/2016/05/31/gop-linked-boe-official-blamed-for-leaking-de-blasio-probe/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New York Post</a>, in a statement. “Now that we know the facts, I hope the mayor will apologize for maligning my integrity and professionalism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio never apologized and stood by his remarks, which he again confirmed in recent weeks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The election law states that a person who wilfully accepts illegal over-the-limit contributions would be required to repay the amount that exceeds contribution limits, and can face a civil penalty equal to that excess amount and an additional fine of $10,000. But, in de Blasio’s case, the candidate committees that benefited from the campaign contributions were not known to be the subject of investigation and appear to have acted within the law in receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from county committees.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I’m not sure who would be penalized,” said Dadey from Citizens Union, “because often times it’s not the candidate but the committees that get penalized. So there could be some state Senate candidate committees that could be at fault as well because the mayor’s political team’s activities were there to support the candidate committees.” All of the candidates de Blasio’s team supported lost in 2014, and efforts by the mayor and his associates to flip the Senate to Democrats failed.</p> <p>“I’m not sure what the Board could do,” Dadey said, “but it’s important that they at least review the analysis of the investigation conducted by the district attorney.”</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p> Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. </p>
Massive Bank Settlements Fueled Spending Spree by Electeds 2016-12-22T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-22T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6686:massive-bank-settlements-fueled-spending-spree-by-electeds Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/dajcnbjbleedhnff.jpg" alt="Cuomo new NY bridge tappan zee" width="600" height="375" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>In the wake of the financial collapse and the Great Recession, New York City and State officials began to rake in enormous sums of money from settlements with major banking institutions.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because New York is the major financial industry hub of the world, local officials have jurisdiction over these institutions, and thus related fines, forfeitures, and restitutions. In deals made outside of the budgetary process, New York officials like the Attorney General, and Manhattan District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have accrued billions of dollars from settlements.</p> <p dir="ltr">Where this money goes and how it gets spent are often mysteries. The procedure for allocating settlement money is opaque, and inconsistent across government entities. When asked, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office did not explain its process for distributing settlement monies. The offices of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance did provide some details to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the early stages of a typical process, parties involved in the investigation confer to determine possible settlement terms. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, with ample room for flexibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">When settlements are reached, there are often many vagaries. A 2013 J.P. Morgan settlement with the Department of Justice, for example, used broad language like “permissible purposes for allocation of the funds include, but are not limited to" and funds can be spent "to otherwise promote the interests of the investing public."</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement terms typically stipulate direct consumer relief—offered by the banks themselves to affected parties—along with a cash component for investigators. This money is then usually used at the discretion of the settling investigator, such as the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. It can be used to fulfill political promises, bolster pet initiatives, or create new priorities. It can also give an unfunded agenda new life.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cash is, of course, highly prized, and officials may contest who has jurisdiction over settlement money, which is often split among parties. In the past, Shneiderman and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have sparred over such collections.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government entities at times hire their own third-party monitors to oversee usage and efficacy of settlement spending, bringing into question whether there are sufficient, independent checks to prevent settlement sums from becoming political slush funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Using settlement funds, prominent officials have recently invested in specific sectors: Vance has invested in criminal justice reform, Schneiderman in housing programs, and Cuomo in infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo's has been the most contested of officials who have had settlement monies to spend. The money at Cuomo’s disposal has come from a combination of settlements with the Department of Financial Services, which Cuomo established in 2011, and some see as an effort to supercede work typically done by other government entities, like the Attorney General (while Cuomo is a former Attorney General, he is known to be territorial and has not had a terribly cooperative working relationship with Schneiderman).</p> <p dir="ltr">With billions of dollars at his disposal, Cuomo created the Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) in the fiscal year 2015-16 Enacted Budget. The DIIF is a capital projects fund for nonrecurring expenditures, residing in the broader General Fund.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DIIF has allowed the governor to bolster weaker tax collections and reallocate money at will, spending on both capital and noncapital purposes. The DIIF is structured to allow maximum flexibility with minimal oversight, garnering criticism from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement money has been a huge boon to Cuomo’s ambitions for the state. He has spent billions toward his $100 billion infrastructure agenda, which includes a new Tappan Zee Bridge, airport upgrades, and much more.</p> <p dir="ltr">Billion-dollar investments in the Thruway Stabilization Program, Upstate Revitalization Initiative, and Javits Convention Center Expansion have also provoked questions, especially as the governor’s oversight of his Buffalo Billion economic development project has been inadequate, leading to multiple indictments of parties involved.</p> <p dir="ltr">Each major official who has secured significant settlement funds has charted his own path, investing in a chosen agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan DA Vance</strong><br />From 2009 to 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has collected roughly $12 billion in settlements, with $3 billion going to city and state treasuries, and around $807 million remaining under the DA office’s control, according to an October Citizens Budget Committee<a href="http://www.cbcny.org/sites/default/files/PRESENTATION_10262016.pdf"> report</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement terms have stipulated that this money go to criminal justice projects, leading Vance to form the Criminal Justice Investment Fund. He has used money to both plug budget gaps and fund new projects like a John Jay College of Criminal Justice institute designed to educate prosecutors.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's a once in a generation opportunity," Vance said at an October Citizen's Budget Committee event.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Vance's office, all funds have been deposited into accounts registered with the city Department of Finance, subject to audit by the city Comptroller. Some are directed by federal guidelines through the<a href="https://www.justice.gov/criminal-afmls/equitable-sharing-program"> Equitable Sharing Program</a>, by which the Department of Justice distributes forfeitures to the law enforcement agency involved in the investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA has chosen the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance to develop funding recommendations and monitor progress.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office says settlement resources are funding transformative initiatives. Maggie Wolk, director of planning and management for Vance, told Gotham Gazette that the money will support a “21st century crime-fighting” agenda. Rather than innovative projects, initial settlement money was used to cover existing needs, such as NYCHA security, like exterior lighting upgrades, which are seen as key to fighting crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other funds from Vance have strengthened safety nets: in-prison education, at-risk youth diversion programs, and the Mayor's Task Force On Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice. Vance’s office is also funding a national program to reduce the sexual assault backlog by testing rape kits across the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s most innovative project is the Global Cyber Alliance (GCA). Created in 2015, the GCA is a coalition of more than 120 global partners who collaborate to develop risk solutions for reducing terror, cyber, and financial crimes. Vance is in regular contact with the commissioner of the London police for this project. A November symposium at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York––hosted by Vance––included the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">The GCA is the type of initiative that might not exist without settlement funds, but that Vance is able to invest in significantly. Because of the autonomy of district attorney offices and Vance’s Manhattan jurisdiction, he has been in prime position to recover funds and determine how he wants to spend them.</p> <p dir="ltr">In November 2015, The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/nyregion/cyrus-vance-has-dollar-808-million-to-give-away.html?_r=0">reported</a> on Vance’s windfall, highlighting his investments in reducing the sexual assault backlog, the GCA, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The piece also raised the question of the amount of oversight involved in these expenditures -- a common theme among top officials who all-of-a-sudden came to control billions of discretionary dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Attorney General Schneiderman</strong><br />Attorney General Schneiderman’s office says it has collected $5 billion since the financial crisis, using available cash to create programs to support those affected by the mortgage crisis.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These programs have already provided unprecedented assistance to homeowners and communities across the state,” Schneiderman said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to programs protecting homeowners at risk of foreclosure and communities struggling with vacant and blighted homes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman’s first settlement was in 2012, when 49 states, along with the federal government, reached a $25 billion agreement with some of the nation's biggest mortgage servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.</p> <p dir="ltr">From the settlement, the Attorney General's office received $135 million -- a sum, according to Citizens Budget Commission's David Friedfel, "relatively small in comparison to overall amounts." Schneiderman has faced challenges in getting or keeping settlement money as Cuomo has encroached.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of Schneiderman's first ventures using settlement funds was the 2012 launch of the Homeowner Protection Program, which provides homeowners with mortgage assistance, including housing counseling and legal services. A December<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-additional-20-million-homeowner-protection-program-plus-new"> press release</a> details that the Attorney General planned to add another $20 million to his existing $100 million investment in the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another initiative, the Mortgage Assistance Program, created in 2014, provides loans to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. A May 2016<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-100-million-expansion-foreclosure-prevention-efforts-new"> press release</a> reported that the Attorney General has distributed $18 million in loans to preserve $153 million of property value.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman has also funded a series of long-ignored land banks: nonprofit organizations that acquire, rebuild, or demolish vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed properties. This investment came in the wake of a 27% increase in vacant and distressed properties between 2000 and 2010, according to the AG's office. Schneiderman initially allocated $12.5 million, and later another $33 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">A November 2016<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-20-million-new-funding-land-banks-support-communities"> report</a> from the AG’s office says that in the past three years, ten land banks have reclaimed approximately 2,000 properties, returned 700, and demolished 400, saving $19 million in property value. That month, the AG announced an additional $20 million in funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Vance, Schneiderman selected his own oversight committee, tapping Enterprise Community Partners to conduct regular reporting on his uses of settlement monies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Questions remain about the process of dividing funds among parties relevant to an investigation. Schneiderman's office provided a vague picture of negotiations with settling parties, Cuomo’s office, and other offices like the Department of Justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Once terms are determined, money is sent back to the state where it becomes the decision-making jurisdiction of the Legislature and Governor. At this point, the Attorney General is removed from proceedings.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early stage of negotiations can prove contentious; in January 2014, New Yorkers caught a glimpse of this infighting.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a landmark $13 billion deal with JPMorgan Chase, Schneiderman negotiated terms that gave him control over a $613 million sum. Cuomo argued that all the money should go into the state treasury. After a public feud, the two reached a deal where Schneiderman diverted $81.5 million to Cuomo, to be used specifically for housing programs.</p> <p dir="ltr">A New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/dividing-the-bank-settlement.html">editorial</a> placed blame on Cuomo, calling the exchange an “unnecessary fight.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Governor Cuomo</strong><br />According to a November <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2016/2016-17_midyear_report.pdf">update</a> from state Comptroller DiNapoli, New York has received or is expected to receive approximately $9 billion in settlement funds from the beginning of state fiscal year 2014-15 through the middle of state fiscal year 2016-17, which is the current one and ends March 31.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the same update, in fiscal year 2015-16, settlement revenues were 3.7% of State Operating Funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Then there’s Cuomo’s Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF), which, as of the fiscal 2016-17 enacted state budget, was appropriated almost $7.4 billion. The DIIF is an opaque capital projects fund for nonrecurring expenditures.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his update, the comptroller said appropriation language is "broadly worded" to provide "significant flexibility.” These “mostly unrestricted” funds can be used for non-capital expenses and even transferred back into the General Fund in case of economic downturn or other needs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through the middle of fiscal 2016-17, roughly $1.6 billion has been used for noncapital expenses, according to the comptroller’s update.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The public at large doesn’t know what the government is spending their money on,” said David Friedfel of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog. "The appropriations language essentially says that they can use the money for whatever they want.”</p> <p dir="ltr">E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, feels the same. "It's basically a grab-bag of different projects that are meant to be politically appealing as much as anything."</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Cuomo is using settlement dollars to compensate for tax collections that have seen a decline of $1.3 billion in fiscal 2016-17 over the year before, with personal income tax collections down 3% in the same period year-over-year, according to the comptroller’s update. The state fiscal year begins April 1. Cuomo will be outlining his proposed fiscal 2017-18 budget in January.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a November<a href="http://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/nov16/110316.htm"> press release</a>, DiNapoli further questioned Cuomo's actions. "The use of settlement resources for ongoing spending and to boost the state's bottom line may be obscuring New York's true fiscal position, and leaving uncertainty for the commitments already made,” DiNapoli said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both Friedfel and McMahon noted that settlement funds could have been used to pay down long-term debt, which is $63 billion, according to a March 2016 Comptroller <a href="http://osc.state.ny.us/debt/debtspreadsheet.pdf">report</a>. "One of the other acceptable uses other than debt reduction would've been to take another big chunk of it and put it in reserve. But he didn't do that either," McMahon said of Cuomo. "He's having his cake and eating it too."</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Projects</strong><br />The fiscal 2016-2017 Enacted Budget Financial Plan details that $2 billion is going to the Thruway Stabilization Program. According to the governor's office, around one third of this money will go to supporting core infrastructure, and two thirds to the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Tappan Zee replacement (the New NY Bridge) has been a longstanding Cuomo initiative that the governor is, in part, staking his legacy on. Some believe more of the Thruway money should have been spent on less-sexy existing infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Friedfel and McMahon took issue with this allocation, which each called a "blank check" to the Thruway Authority. The governor's office denied this was the case.</p> <p dir="ltr">McMahon argues that the Thruway should not have been the highest priority, citing that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) only received $250 million to open a Metro-North link in Penn Station.</p> <p dir="ltr">"The Thruway is not to the rest of the state as the MTA is to downstate," McMahon explained. "There's no comparison."</p> <p dir="ltr">The governor has also dedicated $1.7 billion of settlement funds to the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) to incentivize economic development.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this initiative, Regional Economic Development Councils––public-private partnerships made up of local experts and stakeholders––submit development plans to a committee including the New York Secretary of State. Those deemed to have the strongest plans receive a total of $500 million to enact their projects.</p> <p dir="ltr">In supporting the investment, a representative of the governor's office cited a drop in unemployment since URI’s institution.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York’s fiscal discipline under Governor Cuomo has made it possible to dedicate these unplanned settlement dollars to capital projects that will have a huge economic impact,” said Morris Peters at the State Division of the Budget. Cuomo has staked much of his tenure on restoring fiscal sanity to the capital, including a 2 percent cap on annual spending increases in the operating budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Experts have concerns about the potential return for taxpayers from URI and other economic development investments made by Cuomo, and recent corruption indictments of eight Cuomo aides, associates, and donors have raised additional oversight questions.</p> <p dir="ltr">The governor's<a href="https://www.ny.gov/programs/upstate-revitalization-initiative"> website</a> states that the URI is "modeled after the success of the Buffalo Billion Initiative,” which is at the center of the corruption scheme including bid-rigging and kickbacks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third largest DIIF investment is a high-profile Jacob Javits Center expansion on Manhattan’s west side, to be reimbursed by bond proceeds issued in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The governor <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/7th-proposal-governor-cuomos-2016-agenda-dramatic-expansion-jacob-k-javits-center-attract-more">claims</a> that the expansion will generate 4,000 full-time jobs, 2,000 part-time jobs, and $393 million in new economic activity, annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">A January 2016 press release <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/7th-proposal-governor-cuomos-2016-agenda-dramatic-expansion-jacob-k-javits-center-attract-more">stated</a> that the center will be paid for "within existing resources."</p> <p>According to Friedfel of CBC, the expansion loan did not even exist in Cuomo’s executive budget, but later appeared in the adopted budget, raising more questions about how windfall dollars are distributed behind closed doors.</p> <p>

***
by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli from among those offices that have won bank settlements.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/dajcnbjbleedhnff.jpg" alt="Cuomo new NY bridge tappan zee" width="600" height="375" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo (photo: The Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>In the wake of the financial collapse and the Great Recession, New York City and State officials began to rake in enormous sums of money from settlements with major banking institutions.</p> <p dir="ltr">Because New York is the major financial industry hub of the world, local officials have jurisdiction over these institutions, and thus related fines, forfeitures, and restitutions. In deals made outside of the budgetary process, New York officials like the Attorney General, and Manhattan District Attorney, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York have accrued billions of dollars from settlements.</p> <p dir="ltr">Where this money goes and how it gets spent are often mysteries. The procedure for allocating settlement money is opaque, and inconsistent across government entities. When asked, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office did not explain its process for distributing settlement monies. The offices of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance did provide some details to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">In the early stages of a typical process, parties involved in the investigation confer to determine possible settlement terms. Negotiations take place behind closed doors, with ample room for flexibility.</p> <p dir="ltr">When settlements are reached, there are often many vagaries. A 2013 J.P. Morgan settlement with the Department of Justice, for example, used broad language like “permissible purposes for allocation of the funds include, but are not limited to" and funds can be spent "to otherwise promote the interests of the investing public."</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement terms typically stipulate direct consumer relief—offered by the banks themselves to affected parties—along with a cash component for investigators. This money is then usually used at the discretion of the settling investigator, such as the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. It can be used to fulfill political promises, bolster pet initiatives, or create new priorities. It can also give an unfunded agenda new life.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cash is, of course, highly prized, and officials may contest who has jurisdiction over settlement money, which is often split among parties. In the past, Shneiderman and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have sparred over such collections.</p> <p dir="ltr">Government entities at times hire their own third-party monitors to oversee usage and efficacy of settlement spending, bringing into question whether there are sufficient, independent checks to prevent settlement sums from becoming political slush funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Using settlement funds, prominent officials have recently invested in specific sectors: Vance has invested in criminal justice reform, Schneiderman in housing programs, and Cuomo in infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Cuomo's has been the most contested of officials who have had settlement monies to spend. The money at Cuomo’s disposal has come from a combination of settlements with the Department of Financial Services, which Cuomo established in 2011, and some see as an effort to supercede work typically done by other government entities, like the Attorney General (while Cuomo is a former Attorney General, he is known to be territorial and has not had a terribly cooperative working relationship with Schneiderman).</p> <p dir="ltr">With billions of dollars at his disposal, Cuomo created the Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF) in the fiscal year 2015-16 Enacted Budget. The DIIF is a capital projects fund for nonrecurring expenditures, residing in the broader General Fund.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DIIF has allowed the governor to bolster weaker tax collections and reallocate money at will, spending on both capital and noncapital purposes. The DIIF is structured to allow maximum flexibility with minimal oversight, garnering criticism from State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement money has been a huge boon to Cuomo’s ambitions for the state. He has spent billions toward his $100 billion infrastructure agenda, which includes a new Tappan Zee Bridge, airport upgrades, and much more.</p> <p dir="ltr">Billion-dollar investments in the Thruway Stabilization Program, Upstate Revitalization Initiative, and Javits Convention Center Expansion have also provoked questions, especially as the governor’s oversight of his Buffalo Billion economic development project has been inadequate, leading to multiple indictments of parties involved.</p> <p dir="ltr">Each major official who has secured significant settlement funds has charted his own path, investing in a chosen agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Manhattan DA Vance</strong><br />From 2009 to 2016, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has collected roughly $12 billion in settlements, with $3 billion going to city and state treasuries, and around $807 million remaining under the DA office’s control, according to an October Citizens Budget Committee<a href="http://www.cbcny.org/sites/default/files/PRESENTATION_10262016.pdf"> report</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Settlement terms have stipulated that this money go to criminal justice projects, leading Vance to form the Criminal Justice Investment Fund. He has used money to both plug budget gaps and fund new projects like a John Jay College of Criminal Justice institute designed to educate prosecutors.</p> <p dir="ltr">"It's a once in a generation opportunity," Vance said at an October Citizen's Budget Committee event.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to Vance's office, all funds have been deposited into accounts registered with the city Department of Finance, subject to audit by the city Comptroller. Some are directed by federal guidelines through the<a href="https://www.justice.gov/criminal-afmls/equitable-sharing-program"> Equitable Sharing Program</a>, by which the Department of Justice distributes forfeitures to the law enforcement agency involved in the investigation.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA has chosen the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance to develop funding recommendations and monitor progress.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vance’s office says settlement resources are funding transformative initiatives. Maggie Wolk, director of planning and management for Vance, told Gotham Gazette that the money will support a “21st century crime-fighting” agenda. Rather than innovative projects, initial settlement money was used to cover existing needs, such as NYCHA security, like exterior lighting upgrades, which are seen as key to fighting crime.</p> <p dir="ltr">Other funds from Vance have strengthened safety nets: in-prison education, at-risk youth diversion programs, and the Mayor's Task Force On Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice. Vance’s office is also funding a national program to reduce the sexual assault backlog by testing rape kits across the country.</p> <p dir="ltr">The DA’s most innovative project is the Global Cyber Alliance (GCA). Created in 2015, the GCA is a coalition of more than 120 global partners who collaborate to develop risk solutions for reducing terror, cyber, and financial crimes. Vance is in regular contact with the commissioner of the London police for this project. A November symposium at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York––hosted by Vance––included the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.</p> <p dir="ltr">The GCA is the type of initiative that might not exist without settlement funds, but that Vance is able to invest in significantly. Because of the autonomy of district attorney offices and Vance’s Manhattan jurisdiction, he has been in prime position to recover funds and determine how he wants to spend them.</p> <p dir="ltr">In November 2015, The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/nyregion/cyrus-vance-has-dollar-808-million-to-give-away.html?_r=0">reported</a> on Vance’s windfall, highlighting his investments in reducing the sexual assault backlog, the GCA, and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The piece also raised the question of the amount of oversight involved in these expenditures -- a common theme among top officials who all-of-a-sudden came to control billions of discretionary dollars.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Attorney General Schneiderman</strong><br />Attorney General Schneiderman’s office says it has collected $5 billion since the financial crisis, using available cash to create programs to support those affected by the mortgage crisis.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These programs have already provided unprecedented assistance to homeowners and communities across the state,” Schneiderman said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to programs protecting homeowners at risk of foreclosure and communities struggling with vacant and blighted homes.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman’s first settlement was in 2012, when 49 states, along with the federal government, reached a $25 billion agreement with some of the nation's biggest mortgage servicers: Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo.</p> <p dir="ltr">From the settlement, the Attorney General's office received $135 million -- a sum, according to Citizens Budget Commission's David Friedfel, "relatively small in comparison to overall amounts." Schneiderman has faced challenges in getting or keeping settlement money as Cuomo has encroached.</p> <p dir="ltr">One of Schneiderman's first ventures using settlement funds was the 2012 launch of the Homeowner Protection Program, which provides homeowners with mortgage assistance, including housing counseling and legal services. A December<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-additional-20-million-homeowner-protection-program-plus-new"> press release</a> details that the Attorney General planned to add another $20 million to his existing $100 million investment in the program.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another initiative, the Mortgage Assistance Program, created in 2014, provides loans to homeowners at risk of foreclosure. A May 2016<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-100-million-expansion-foreclosure-prevention-efforts-new"> press release</a> reported that the Attorney General has distributed $18 million in loans to preserve $153 million of property value.</p> <p dir="ltr">Schneiderman has also funded a series of long-ignored land banks: nonprofit organizations that acquire, rebuild, or demolish vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed properties. This investment came in the wake of a 27% increase in vacant and distressed properties between 2000 and 2010, according to the AG's office. Schneiderman initially allocated $12.5 million, and later another $33 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">A November 2016<a href="http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-20-million-new-funding-land-banks-support-communities"> report</a> from the AG’s office says that in the past three years, ten land banks have reclaimed approximately 2,000 properties, returned 700, and demolished 400, saving $19 million in property value. That month, the AG announced an additional $20 million in funding.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like Vance, Schneiderman selected his own oversight committee, tapping Enterprise Community Partners to conduct regular reporting on his uses of settlement monies.</p> <p dir="ltr">Questions remain about the process of dividing funds among parties relevant to an investigation. Schneiderman's office provided a vague picture of negotiations with settling parties, Cuomo’s office, and other offices like the Department of Justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Once terms are determined, money is sent back to the state where it becomes the decision-making jurisdiction of the Legislature and Governor. At this point, the Attorney General is removed from proceedings.</p> <p dir="ltr">The early stage of negotiations can prove contentious; in January 2014, New Yorkers caught a glimpse of this infighting.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a landmark $13 billion deal with JPMorgan Chase, Schneiderman negotiated terms that gave him control over a $613 million sum. Cuomo argued that all the money should go into the state treasury. After a public feud, the two reached a deal where Schneiderman diverted $81.5 million to Cuomo, to be used specifically for housing programs.</p> <p dir="ltr">A New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/25/opinion/dividing-the-bank-settlement.html">editorial</a> placed blame on Cuomo, calling the exchange an “unnecessary fight.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Governor Cuomo</strong><br />According to a November <a href="http://www.osc.state.ny.us/reports/budget/2016/2016-17_midyear_report.pdf">update</a> from state Comptroller DiNapoli, New York has received or is expected to receive approximately $9 billion in settlement funds from the beginning of state fiscal year 2014-15 through the middle of state fiscal year 2016-17, which is the current one and ends March 31.</p> <p dir="ltr">According to the same update, in fiscal year 2015-16, settlement revenues were 3.7% of State Operating Funds.</p> <p dir="ltr">Then there’s Cuomo’s Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF), which, as of the fiscal 2016-17 enacted state budget, was appropriated almost $7.4 billion. The DIIF is an opaque capital projects fund for nonrecurring expenditures.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his update, the comptroller said appropriation language is "broadly worded" to provide "significant flexibility.” These “mostly unrestricted” funds can be used for non-capital expenses and even transferred back into the General Fund in case of economic downturn or other needs.</p> <p dir="ltr">Through the middle of fiscal 2016-17, roughly $1.6 billion has been used for noncapital expenses, according to the comptroller’s update.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The public at large doesn’t know what the government is spending their money on,” said David Friedfel of Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog. "The appropriations language essentially says that they can use the money for whatever they want.”</p> <p dir="ltr">E.J. McMahon, research director at the Empire Center for Public Policy, feels the same. "It's basically a grab-bag of different projects that are meant to be politically appealing as much as anything."</p> <p dir="ltr">Governor Cuomo is using settlement dollars to compensate for tax collections that have seen a decline of $1.3 billion in fiscal 2016-17 over the year before, with personal income tax collections down 3% in the same period year-over-year, according to the comptroller’s update. The state fiscal year begins April 1. Cuomo will be outlining his proposed fiscal 2017-18 budget in January.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a November<a href="http://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/nov16/110316.htm"> press release</a>, DiNapoli further questioned Cuomo's actions. "The use of settlement resources for ongoing spending and to boost the state's bottom line may be obscuring New York's true fiscal position, and leaving uncertainty for the commitments already made,” DiNapoli said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Both Friedfel and McMahon noted that settlement funds could have been used to pay down long-term debt, which is $63 billion, according to a March 2016 Comptroller <a href="http://osc.state.ny.us/debt/debtspreadsheet.pdf">report</a>. "One of the other acceptable uses other than debt reduction would've been to take another big chunk of it and put it in reserve. But he didn't do that either," McMahon said of Cuomo. "He's having his cake and eating it too."</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Projects</strong><br />The fiscal 2016-2017 Enacted Budget Financial Plan details that $2 billion is going to the Thruway Stabilization Program. According to the governor's office, around one third of this money will go to supporting core infrastructure, and two thirds to the construction of the new Tappan Zee Bridge.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Tappan Zee replacement (the New NY Bridge) has been a longstanding Cuomo initiative that the governor is, in part, staking his legacy on. Some believe more of the Thruway money should have been spent on less-sexy existing infrastructure.</p> <p dir="ltr">Friedfel and McMahon took issue with this allocation, which each called a "blank check" to the Thruway Authority. The governor's office denied this was the case.</p> <p dir="ltr">McMahon argues that the Thruway should not have been the highest priority, citing that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) only received $250 million to open a Metro-North link in Penn Station.</p> <p dir="ltr">"The Thruway is not to the rest of the state as the MTA is to downstate," McMahon explained. "There's no comparison."</p> <p dir="ltr">The governor has also dedicated $1.7 billion of settlement funds to the Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI) to incentivize economic development.</p> <p dir="ltr">In this initiative, Regional Economic Development Councils––public-private partnerships made up of local experts and stakeholders––submit development plans to a committee including the New York Secretary of State. Those deemed to have the strongest plans receive a total of $500 million to enact their projects.</p> <p dir="ltr">In supporting the investment, a representative of the governor's office cited a drop in unemployment since URI’s institution.</p> <p dir="ltr">“New York’s fiscal discipline under Governor Cuomo has made it possible to dedicate these unplanned settlement dollars to capital projects that will have a huge economic impact,” said Morris Peters at the State Division of the Budget. Cuomo has staked much of his tenure on restoring fiscal sanity to the capital, including a 2 percent cap on annual spending increases in the operating budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">Experts have concerns about the potential return for taxpayers from URI and other economic development investments made by Cuomo, and recent corruption indictments of eight Cuomo aides, associates, and donors have raised additional oversight questions.</p> <p dir="ltr">The governor's<a href="https://www.ny.gov/programs/upstate-revitalization-initiative"> website</a> states that the URI is "modeled after the success of the Buffalo Billion Initiative,” which is at the center of the corruption scheme including bid-rigging and kickbacks.</p> <p dir="ltr">The third largest DIIF investment is a high-profile Jacob Javits Center expansion on Manhattan’s west side, to be reimbursed by bond proceeds issued in fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The governor <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/7th-proposal-governor-cuomos-2016-agenda-dramatic-expansion-jacob-k-javits-center-attract-more">claims</a> that the expansion will generate 4,000 full-time jobs, 2,000 part-time jobs, and $393 million in new economic activity, annually.</p> <p dir="ltr">A January 2016 press release <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/news/7th-proposal-governor-cuomos-2016-agenda-dramatic-expansion-jacob-k-javits-center-attract-more">stated</a> that the center will be paid for "within existing resources."</p> <p>According to Friedfel of CBC, the expansion loan did not even exist in Cuomo’s executive budget, but later appeared in the adopted budget, raising more questions about how windfall dollars are distributed behind closed doors.</p> <p>

***
by Benjamin Jurney for Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: this article has been corrected to remove mention of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli from among those offices that have won bank settlements.</p>
District Attorneys, City Council Agree Mayor is Underfunding DAs 2016-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 2016-05-23T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6351:district-attorneys-city-council-agree-mayor-is-underfunding-das Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24992580574_d19c20c890_z.jpg" alt="district attorneys city council hearing" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/de1_16.pdf" target="_blank">preliminary budget</a>, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.</p> <p dir="ltr">The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6263-city-council-budget-response-seeks-new-spending-more-savings" target="_blank">response to his preliminary budget</a> and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.</p> <p dir="ltr">None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">$82.2 executive budget</a>, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6321-first-executive-budget-hearing-sets-stage-for-final-negotiations" target="_blank">criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May</a> when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”</p> <p>In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/919-15/de-blasio-administration-launches-comprehensive-effort-reduce-opioid-misuse-overdose-deaths" target="_blank">initiatives</a> aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.</p> <p>While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24992580574_d19c20c890_z.jpg" alt="district attorneys city council hearing" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>The five District Attorneys at a March hearing (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">The district attorneys of the five boroughs reasserted their need for increased funding in the 2017 fiscal year at a City Council executive budget hearing Monday at City Hall. Council members—opting to forego heavy questioning of the necessity of this funding—framed fulfilling the district attorney requests as a crucial step towards criminal justice reform.</p> <p dir="ltr">The public safety committee hearing was the penultimate executive budget hearing, with the finance committee set to finish the proceedings Tuesday before closed-door negotiations lead to a budget deal between Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/omb/downloads/pdf/de1_16.pdf" target="_blank">preliminary budget</a>, released Jan. 21, estimated $94 million would be allocated to the King’s County (Brooklyn) DA office, $57 million to Queens County, $10 million to Richmond County (Staten Island), $101 million to New York County (Manhattan), and $59 million to Bronx County.</p> <p dir="ltr">The five DAs presented additional funding requests during a preliminary budget hearing in March, after which the Council called on de Blasio to fully fund those budget needs in its <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6263-city-council-budget-response-seeks-new-spending-more-savings" target="_blank">response to his preliminary budget</a> and listed public safety among its top eight priorities. Of the five offices, New York County requested an additional $600,000, Bronx County $11.5 million, Kings County $1 million, Queens County $4.9 million, and Richmond $3.6 million. The Bronx request was so large because new DA Darcel Clark plans to open a new bureau on Rikers Island, as well as several other significant initiatives.</p> <p dir="ltr">None of the additional funding requests were included in de Blasio’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6304-de-blasio-releases-new-82b-budget-with-targeted-investments-and-additional-savings" target="_blank">$82.2 executive budget</a>, released April 27—a decision Council Member and Public Safety Committee Chair Vanessa Gibson said on Monday she was “very disappointed to see.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“The City Council is making significant impacts to criminal justice reform, but none of this will matter if the city does not support our District Attorneys,” Gibson said. “Though I applaud the efforts that the administration’s [making] to fund other law enforcement agencies such as the NYPD, it is irresponsible not to include funding for our city’s prosecutors.”</p> <p dir="ltr">At Monday’s executive budget hearing, representatives from the DA offices, including three DAs themselves, said increased funding would be the only solution to severe problems facing each county, and Council Member and Finance Committee Chair Julissa Ferreras-Copeland said the Council was “on the same page.” Ferreras-Copeland <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6321-first-executive-budget-hearing-sets-stage-for-final-negotiations" target="_blank">criticized de Blasio’s executive budget earlier in May</a> when she said it did not “ensure that the shared priorities of both the Administration and the Council are included.”</p> <p>In response to Monday's comments from the district attorney offices and Council members, mayoral spokesperson Monica Klein said in an emailed statement, "The administration is committed to appropriately funding the critical needs of our District Attorneys, and we look forward to working with the Council and DAs throughout the budget process. Mayor de Blasio has also invested in numerous initiatives to support our DAs' essential efforts -- including an additional $2 million per year to the Special Narcotics Prosecutor and $10 million to the Anti-Violence Innovation challenge -- and launched expansive <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/919-15/de-blasio-administration-launches-comprehensive-effort-reduce-opioid-misuse-overdose-deaths" target="_blank">initiatives</a> aimed at reducing opioid misuse and overdose deaths across the City, in close partnership with local elected officials."</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan DA Cy Vance said on Monday that additional funding would go toward the creation of an Alternative to Incarceration unit aimed at preventing low-level nonviolent offenders from facing jail time.</p> <p dir="ltr">Staten Island DA Michael McMahon, a Democrat who succeeded Republican Dan Donovan (now a member of Congress) as DA, said his predecessors “did not aggressively pursue” sufficient funding at City Hall. As a result, McMahon said his office is unequiped to combat Staten Island’s rising heroin overdose epidemic and domestic abuse incidents, and currently unable to finance a case management system. All five DAs are now Democrats, like de Blasio and 48 of the 51 City Council members.</p> <p dir="ltr">Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, represented at the hearing by his chief of staff Leroy Frazer, and Queens DA Richard Brown, represented by Chief ADA Jack Ryan, both hope to direct additional funding towards increasing personnel and improving facilities.</p> <p>While Bronx DA Clark said some funding would go towards facilities and retaining more staff within her offices, she also hopes to establish a Rikers bureau that targets the prison complex, where she said corruption currently fosters “criminal business as usual.”</p> <p>

***
by Aaron Holmes, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Vance Has Ties to Several in De Blasio Probe 2016-04-29T04:00:00+00:00 2016-04-29T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6310:vance-has-ties-to-several-in-de-blasio-probe Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21905487303_9ce3565c39_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="vance de blasio bratton presser" /></p> <p>Cy Vance (front) and Bill de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance finds himself in a unique situation as he takes on the investigation of efforts led by Mayor Bill de Blasio to win control of the state Senate for Democrats in 2014.</p> <p>Vance has a longstanding political relationship with de Blasio and both share a number of donors. Like de Blasio, Vance is an elected Democrat. They’ve stood together for several policy announcements over the past two-plus years since de Blasio took office as Mayor.</p> <p>Perhaps the most notable and concerning connection to some is that Vance has also employed two of the political strategy groups subpoenaed in the investigation spurred by the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who found problems with the unsuccessful 2014 efforts by de Blasio and his allies to win key swing Senate seats. Specifically, Sugarman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6303-despite-concerns-boe-commissioners-call-de-blasio-referral-valid" target="_blank">pointed to ways</a> in which de Blasio’s allies attempted to evade state campaign donation limits.</p> <p>City officials confirmed on Wednesday that “City Hall” had been subpoenaed, but said that the mayor himself had not been named. The subpoenas, de Blasio’s counsel said, were from both Vance and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. De Blasio has repeatedly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6307-conflict-of-interest-leaked-memo-cloud-de-blasio-accusations" target="_blank">insisted</a> that neither he nor his team broke any laws.</p> <p>As New Yorkers await more information from Vance’s investigation, his political relationship with de Blasio is part of a complicated picture. The two have given support for each other or issued joint statements in at least eight announcements over the past three years. They’ve held at least three joint press conferences and Vance’s office works closely on a day-to-day basis with de Blasio’s police department. Topics Vance and de Blasio have worked on together include prosecutions of bankers, funding to examine rape kits, an overhaul of the city’s summons system, and efforts to get illegal guns off the street.</p> <p>“The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is an independent agency from the Mayor’s Office, and has frequently conducted investigations and prosecuted cases involving city agencies or employees. We cannot comment on what private firm may or may not have received subpoenas,” Joan Vollero, Vance’s director of communications, told Gotham Gazette in a statement.</p> <p>People who know the two well stress that Vance and de Blasio are not particularly close personally and note that the mayor has also made joint announcements with Bharara. The U.S. Attorney, who has made rooting out public corruption a mission, made waves earlier this month, telling a crowd, “We will keep looking hard at corruption in our legislative branch, as we have been. But not just there: in the executive branch too, both in city and in state government.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, state Board of Elections records show Vance’s connection to two firms included in the BOE referral to law enforcement. Filings show Vance’s campaign paid Mark Guma Communications $1,327,351 from 2009 to 2013 for television and radio advertising, political mailers, and consulting.</p> <p>Mark Guma Communications was subpoenaed by Sugarman in her investigation into what she described as de Blasio’s team’s efforts to intentionally evade campaign finance laws by funnelling donor cash into county committees, which have larger contribution limits, and out to candidate campaigns, which have much lower limits. A subpoena does not indicate charges or guilt.</p> <p>Vance’s campaign also did business with Red Horse Strategies, which was also subpoenaed in Sugarman’s investigation, to the amount of $25,000 in 2009.</p> <p>Both firms assisted Democratic Senate candidates in the 2014 election cycle.</p> <p>To some, these connections simply show the close-knit nature of New York politics, but to others they present reason for Vance to recuse himself in the de Blasio-related investigation.</p> <p>“Cy Vance seems to be a very straightforward guy,” said Jennifer Rodgers, former assistant U.S. Attorney and current executive director of the Center For The Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia University. “In the case of any personal involvement I believe he’d be the first to recuse himself. In the absence any personal involvement the fact that New York City politics turns out to be this weird incestuous pool with everyone working with the same consultants says nothing of the independence of Cy Vance.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said he believes the connections are a good reason for Vance to disassociate himself from the case. “Given the sweeping breadth of the investigation into areas touching DA Vance's own political activity - at least two of his own political consultants were subpoenaed - Vance should welcome a complete takeover of the investigation by Preet Bharara,” Kaehny told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said it was “unsurprising” that de Blasio and Vance used the same political strategists but said it is important Vance proceed “appropriately” and with “integrity.”</p> <p>Sugarman’s report states:</p> <p>“Documents were obtained via subpoena from five political consultants involved in these campaigns: Berlin Rosen, LTD., Mark Guma Communications, The Parkside Group LLC, AKPD Message and Media LLC, and Red Horse Strategies LLC. We sought information about work these consultants performed in connection with campaigns for the state senate races of Justin Wagner, Terry Gipson and Cecilia Tkaczyk. Thousands of documents were produced. Review of the documents revealed evidence of campaigns that were coordinated at every level and down to minute details.”</p> <p>Long-time Board of Elections commissioner Douglas Kellner, a Democrat, said that it was Sugarman who suggested referring the de Blasio case to Vance and that he and other commissioners concurred. “I think he’s very capable and I think he will evaluate this independently,” Kellner said of Vance. Kellner said he thought Vance was appropriate because “his office had two prior cases where he was having to argue that you have to look at the whole transaction, not just the parts.”</p> <p>Multiple sources tell Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6303-despite-concerns-boe-commissioners-call-de-blasio-referral-valid" target="_blank">the vote to refer the case</a> was unanimous among the board’s four commissioners, two of whom are Democrats, two of whom are Republicans.</p> <p>One of Vance’s previous campaign finance cases was against Manhattan Surrogate Case Judge Nora Anderson. Anderson was charged with campaign finance fraud for reporting donations had come from herself when they had actually come her boss at the law firm that employed her. A jury <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/surrogate-judge-acquitted-of-campaign-finance-fraud/" target="_blank">acquitted her</a>.</p> <p>The other Vance case was that of Queens political consultant John Haggerty who was accused of bilking Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign fund for hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy his family a house. Haggerty <a href="http://observer.com/2011/10/haggery-guilty-vance-victorious/" target="_blank">was convicted</a>.</p> <p>“One or two cases can make or break the career of a Manhattan District Attorney,” said Dadey. “It is integral that Cy Vance move forward with this case with the independence and fair mindedness he is known for. These charges against the mayor are serious. It’s clear that his team skated close to the line of the law, if not over it. It will be up to the prosecutor and judicial system to decide whether a law was broken.”</p> <p>Vance is treading in fairly new territory as thousands of past referrals from the BOE were ignored by other district attorneys from around the state due to what they have said was a dearth of detailed information or a lack of resources to pursue them.</p> <p>“There is a big difference between the Manhattan DA and the Albany DA,” Rodgers, of CAPI, told Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot more resources going to the public corruption unit in Manhattan. The lack of cases is a shame, but it is partially due to resources and partially due to the quality of investigations. If Sugarman is doing more referrals that are wrapped in a bow and the DA just has to bring it, it may become easier for any DA to act.”</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/anti-corruption-panel-fails-pursue-criminal-referrals-article-1.1417593" target="_blank">New York Daily News report</a> from August 2013 detailed how the Albany County District Attorney failed to act on around 1,300 referrals from the Board of Elections. At that time the board referred campaign finance violations to district attorneys with jurisdiction, but with little to no prior investigation.</p> <p>“I can see a DA saying ‘Thanks for the complaint but we don't have two detectives to put on this,” said Rodgers. “In Albany, violent crime has to be a priority. Public corruption cases are usually hard cases that take a long time, a lot of expertise and are fairly complicated.”</p> <p>However, since Sugarman was confirmed in 2014 to fill the newly created enforcement counsel position, it appears she has abandoned the previous process of fining candidates that don’t file and instead dug into violations of the law she thinks will make good cases. Sugarman did not return request for comment.</p> <p>“Risa Sugarman dismantled the process by which committees who didn’t do filings were routinely fined,” said Kellner. “She doesn't agree it’s appropriate for her do that, but my concern is that campaigns will catch on and realize there is no consequence for failing to file.”</p> <p>As for Vance, Dadey said he believes all of New York City will be looking to the DA to deliver a fair and strong investigation, and if necessary a case. “The spotlight will be on this DA like it hasn’t been since the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, which was not handled well,” Dadey said. “Perhaps even more so because of the high profile of the Mayor of New York City...Hopefully the DA has learned from his early mistakes and will proceed with the independence and competence he is known for.”</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/21905487303_9ce3565c39_z.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt="vance de blasio bratton presser" /></p> <p>Cy Vance (front) and Bill de Blasio (photo via The Mayor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance finds himself in a unique situation as he takes on the investigation of efforts led by Mayor Bill de Blasio to win control of the state Senate for Democrats in 2014.</p> <p>Vance has a longstanding political relationship with de Blasio and both share a number of donors. Like de Blasio, Vance is an elected Democrat. They’ve stood together for several policy announcements over the past two-plus years since de Blasio took office as Mayor.</p> <p>Perhaps the most notable and concerning connection to some is that Vance has also employed two of the political strategy groups subpoenaed in the investigation spurred by the state Board of Elections enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, who found problems with the unsuccessful 2014 efforts by de Blasio and his allies to win key swing Senate seats. Specifically, Sugarman <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6303-despite-concerns-boe-commissioners-call-de-blasio-referral-valid" target="_blank">pointed to ways</a> in which de Blasio’s allies attempted to evade state campaign donation limits.</p> <p>City officials confirmed on Wednesday that “City Hall” had been subpoenaed, but said that the mayor himself had not been named. The subpoenas, de Blasio’s counsel said, were from both Vance and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. De Blasio has repeatedly <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/city/6307-conflict-of-interest-leaked-memo-cloud-de-blasio-accusations" target="_blank">insisted</a> that neither he nor his team broke any laws.</p> <p>As New Yorkers await more information from Vance’s investigation, his political relationship with de Blasio is part of a complicated picture. The two have given support for each other or issued joint statements in at least eight announcements over the past three years. They’ve held at least three joint press conferences and Vance’s office works closely on a day-to-day basis with de Blasio’s police department. Topics Vance and de Blasio have worked on together include prosecutions of bankers, funding to examine rape kits, an overhaul of the city’s summons system, and efforts to get illegal guns off the street.</p> <p>“The Manhattan District Attorney's Office is an independent agency from the Mayor’s Office, and has frequently conducted investigations and prosecuted cases involving city agencies or employees. We cannot comment on what private firm may or may not have received subpoenas,” Joan Vollero, Vance’s director of communications, told Gotham Gazette in a statement.</p> <p>People who know the two well stress that Vance and de Blasio are not particularly close personally and note that the mayor has also made joint announcements with Bharara. The U.S. Attorney, who has made rooting out public corruption a mission, made waves earlier this month, telling a crowd, “We will keep looking hard at corruption in our legislative branch, as we have been. But not just there: in the executive branch too, both in city and in state government.”</p> <p>Meanwhile, state Board of Elections records show Vance’s connection to two firms included in the BOE referral to law enforcement. Filings show Vance’s campaign paid Mark Guma Communications $1,327,351 from 2009 to 2013 for television and radio advertising, political mailers, and consulting.</p> <p>Mark Guma Communications was subpoenaed by Sugarman in her investigation into what she described as de Blasio’s team’s efforts to intentionally evade campaign finance laws by funnelling donor cash into county committees, which have larger contribution limits, and out to candidate campaigns, which have much lower limits. A subpoena does not indicate charges or guilt.</p> <p>Vance’s campaign also did business with Red Horse Strategies, which was also subpoenaed in Sugarman’s investigation, to the amount of $25,000 in 2009.</p> <p>Both firms assisted Democratic Senate candidates in the 2014 election cycle.</p> <p>To some, these connections simply show the close-knit nature of New York politics, but to others they present reason for Vance to recuse himself in the de Blasio-related investigation.</p> <p>“Cy Vance seems to be a very straightforward guy,” said Jennifer Rodgers, former assistant U.S. Attorney and current executive director of the Center For The Advancement of Public Integrity (CAPI) at Columbia University. “In the case of any personal involvement I believe he’d be the first to recuse himself. In the absence any personal involvement the fact that New York City politics turns out to be this weird incestuous pool with everyone working with the same consultants says nothing of the independence of Cy Vance.”</p> <p>John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, said he believes the connections are a good reason for Vance to disassociate himself from the case. “Given the sweeping breadth of the investigation into areas touching DA Vance's own political activity - at least two of his own political consultants were subpoenaed - Vance should welcome a complete takeover of the investigation by Preet Bharara,” Kaehny told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p>Dick Dadey, executive director of Citizens Union, said it was “unsurprising” that de Blasio and Vance used the same political strategists but said it is important Vance proceed “appropriately” and with “integrity.”</p> <p>Sugarman’s report states:</p> <p>“Documents were obtained via subpoena from five political consultants involved in these campaigns: Berlin Rosen, LTD., Mark Guma Communications, The Parkside Group LLC, AKPD Message and Media LLC, and Red Horse Strategies LLC. We sought information about work these consultants performed in connection with campaigns for the state senate races of Justin Wagner, Terry Gipson and Cecilia Tkaczyk. Thousands of documents were produced. Review of the documents revealed evidence of campaigns that were coordinated at every level and down to minute details.”</p> <p>Long-time Board of Elections commissioner Douglas Kellner, a Democrat, said that it was Sugarman who suggested referring the de Blasio case to Vance and that he and other commissioners concurred. “I think he’s very capable and I think he will evaluate this independently,” Kellner said of Vance. Kellner said he thought Vance was appropriate because “his office had two prior cases where he was having to argue that you have to look at the whole transaction, not just the parts.”</p> <p>Multiple sources tell Gotham Gazette <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/state/6303-despite-concerns-boe-commissioners-call-de-blasio-referral-valid" target="_blank">the vote to refer the case</a> was unanimous among the board’s four commissioners, two of whom are Democrats, two of whom are Republicans.</p> <p>One of Vance’s previous campaign finance cases was against Manhattan Surrogate Case Judge Nora Anderson. Anderson was charged with campaign finance fraud for reporting donations had come from herself when they had actually come her boss at the law firm that employed her. A jury <a href="http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/01/surrogate-judge-acquitted-of-campaign-finance-fraud/" target="_blank">acquitted her</a>.</p> <p>The other Vance case was that of Queens political consultant John Haggerty who was accused of bilking Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s campaign fund for hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy his family a house. Haggerty <a href="http://observer.com/2011/10/haggery-guilty-vance-victorious/" target="_blank">was convicted</a>.</p> <p>“One or two cases can make or break the career of a Manhattan District Attorney,” said Dadey. “It is integral that Cy Vance move forward with this case with the independence and fair mindedness he is known for. These charges against the mayor are serious. It’s clear that his team skated close to the line of the law, if not over it. It will be up to the prosecutor and judicial system to decide whether a law was broken.”</p> <p>Vance is treading in fairly new territory as thousands of past referrals from the BOE were ignored by other district attorneys from around the state due to what they have said was a dearth of detailed information or a lack of resources to pursue them.</p> <p>“There is a big difference between the Manhattan DA and the Albany DA,” Rodgers, of CAPI, told Gotham Gazette. “There are a lot more resources going to the public corruption unit in Manhattan. The lack of cases is a shame, but it is partially due to resources and partially due to the quality of investigations. If Sugarman is doing more referrals that are wrapped in a bow and the DA just has to bring it, it may become easier for any DA to act.”</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/anti-corruption-panel-fails-pursue-criminal-referrals-article-1.1417593" target="_blank">New York Daily News report</a> from August 2013 detailed how the Albany County District Attorney failed to act on around 1,300 referrals from the Board of Elections. At that time the board referred campaign finance violations to district attorneys with jurisdiction, but with little to no prior investigation.</p> <p>“I can see a DA saying ‘Thanks for the complaint but we don't have two detectives to put on this,” said Rodgers. “In Albany, violent crime has to be a priority. Public corruption cases are usually hard cases that take a long time, a lot of expertise and are fairly complicated.”</p> <p>However, since Sugarman was confirmed in 2014 to fill the newly created enforcement counsel position, it appears she has abandoned the previous process of fining candidates that don’t file and instead dug into violations of the law she thinks will make good cases. Sugarman did not return request for comment.</p> <p>“Risa Sugarman dismantled the process by which committees who didn’t do filings were routinely fined,” said Kellner. “She doesn't agree it’s appropriate for her do that, but my concern is that campaigns will catch on and realize there is no consequence for failing to file.”</p> <p>As for Vance, Dadey said he believes all of New York City will be looking to the DA to deliver a fair and strong investigation, and if necessary a case. “The spotlight will be on this DA like it hasn’t been since the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, which was not handled well,” Dadey said. “Perhaps even more so because of the high profile of the Mayor of New York City...Hopefully the DA has learned from his early mistakes and will proceed with the independence and competence he is known for.”</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union.</p>
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, March 21 2016-03-19T14:22:16+00:00 2016-03-19T14:22:16+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6231:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-march-21 Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/640px-New_York_City_Hall.jpg" alt="New York City Hall" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York City Hall</span></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What to watch for this week in New York politics:</strong></p> <p>This week will be another busy one when it comes to budgets: the City Council continues its preliminary budget hearings and state budget negotiations enter their final ten days - a state budget is due by April 1 and some say a deal could be announced before the end of this week. Don't count on it, though, state budgets usually come in just before (or, as was the case last year, just after) the March 31 midnight deadline. This practice under Governor Andrew Cuomo is actually a serious improvement given that the state used to regularly wind up with late budgets extending weeks past the start of the new fiscal year, which begins April 1.</p> <p>There are a variety of issues to be worked out, with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans" target="_blank">several of importance to New York City.</a> As always, there are a number of high-profile items, like an increase of the minimum wage or government ethics reform, that could be pushed beyond the budget and into the legislative session to follow. That session runs until mid-June. The budget, after all, only must include necessary state expenses. Expect at least a couple of closed-door meetings among Cuomo and the two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican. On Monday,&nbsp;City Council "Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Members will travel to Albany to advocate for the City Council's 2016 State Budget and Legislative Agenda," according to Mark-Viverito's public schedule.</p> <p>Also worth watching in Albany this week, the Assembly will consider internal reforms <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank">announced by Heastie and his conference at the end of this past week</a>. The 40-plus reform proposals received <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank">a mixed reaction</a> from elected officials and good government advocates, but still indicate a number of changes that many have been advocating for years. And, keep an eye out for a related conference in Albany on Friday, which will look at ethics reform through the lens of a state constitutional convention - details below.</p> <p>While it is another busy week of budget hearings at the City Council, the Council will also hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which new bills will be introduced and the Council will vote on the two high-profile zoning changes - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - that have been the source of months of discussion, negotiation, and controversy, and that are key to Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plans.</p> <p>As always, there's a great deal happening&nbsp;all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?</em><br /><em>E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>***</em></p> <p><strong>The run of the week in detail:</strong></p> <p><strong>Monday<br /></strong>Mayor de Blasio is doing a series of six media appearances to discuss his affordable housing agenda on Monday. He'll be on NPR, 880AM and 710AM radio, and on NY1, NY1 Noticias, and Univision TV.</p> <p>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 10 a.m. in Albany, following the full <a href="https://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2016/2016-03/meeting-board-regents" target="_blank">meeting</a> of the NYS Board of Regents, the board’s newly-elected Chancellor and Vice Chancellor will hold a press conference with the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.</p> <p dir="ltr">At noon Monday, a coalition of over 90 HIV/AIDS advocates will launch a statewide Week of Action on the steps of City Hall, calling upon Governor Cuomo to invest $70 million in a plan to end AIDS in the 2016 New York State budget.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank">At the City Council</a> on Monday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Health will hold a hearing on a bill to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at sports arenas and recreational areas that require tickets.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At noon, the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Youth Services will discuss a bill requiring the establishment of a training coordinator to teach certain agency staff throughout departments such as Parks and Recreation, Homeless Services, and Human Resources Administration/Social Services how to identify runaway, homeless or sexually exploited youth and how to connect them with appropriate services. The committee will also discuss several technical changes relating to an annual report produced by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development on the number of sexually exploited youth each agency has come into contact with over the course of the calendar year.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss a resolution to increase State funding to CUNY, and to reach a fair labor agreement with the University’s faculty and staff in the 2016-17 NYS Executive Budget.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 3 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will examine a bill to broaden or incorporate a right to truthful information for a variety of activities covered by the New York City Human Rights Law, including lending, employment, and access to public accommodations and others.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">At 2 p.m. Monday,&nbsp;"First Lady McCray will deliver opening remarks at a panel at Fountain House, an organization dedicated to supporting those living with serious mental illness."</p> <p dir="ltr">At 6 p.m. Monday, the LGBT Task Force of Manhattan Community Boards 9, 10, 11, and 12 will host an <a href="https://twitter.com/galeabrewer/status/709089409115631617" target="_blank">LGBT Resource Fair</a> featuring New York City Agencies. The event is sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 6:10 p.m. Monday evening,&nbsp;"Mayor Bill de Blasio will discuss affordable housing with an anticipated 10,000+ AARP members from New York City on an interactive call that allows participants to ask questions," according to AARP-NY.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday at 6:30 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will&nbsp;attend a town hall meeting of District 16's Community Education Council at MS 267 in Brooklyn.</p> <p><strong>Tuesday<br /></strong>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Crain’s New York Business will host an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=cnyb-events&amp;utm_campaign=cnyb-events-20160218" target="_blank">event</a> on how startup businesses take off in New York City, featuring: Gregg Bishop, Commissioner, NYC Department of Small Business Services; Howard Lerman, Co-Founder &amp; CEO, Yext; Rachel Shechtman,, Founder and CEO, STORY; Adam Shwartz, Director, Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech; and moderated by Matthew Flamm, Senior Reporter, Crain's New York Business.<br /><br />At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the YWCA of New York City will host “its third breakfast <a href="https://www.ywcanyc.org/events/new-york-city-women-leaders-the-power-of-influence-and-purpose/" target="_blank">panel</a> for Women’s History Month “New York City Women Leaders: The Power of Influence and Purpose.” The panel will include Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; and Carmelyn Malalis, commissioner of the city’s Human Rights Commission; among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Commission on Public Information and Communication will meet to <a href="http://pubadvocate.nyc.gov/news/events/copic-meeting-1" target="_blank">discuss</a> the implementation of the webcasting law and the establishment of a central portal for webcasts.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the City Council on Tuesday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 9 a.m., the Committee on State and Federal Legislation will meet to press for authorization that Christopher Park in Manhattan is discontinued as city parkland.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to approve new designations for certain organizations to receive funding in the expense budget; to communicate the transfer of City funds between various agencies in FY ‘16 in the expense budget; and to communicate the appropriation of new revenues of $982 million in FY ‘16.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting. The highlight of the hearing will be the Council’s votes on the MIH and ZQA zoning text amendments.</li> <li dir="ltr">Before the Stated, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a pre-Stated press conference at 12:30.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">Also prior to the Stated Meeting, at noon, City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Ydanis Rodriguez will host a press conference on the steps of City Hall to rally before introducing a bill to create a pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations on street parking. The program hopes to encourage the use of electric cars and reduce carbon emissions citywide.</p> <p><strong>Wednesday<br /></strong>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the City Council on Wednesday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Libraries will meet jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations for a preliminary budget hearing on libraries.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 11 a.m., the Committee on Contracts will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">At 5 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCCD8/status/709758093421387777" target="_blank">will host</a> a Women’s History Month celebration at Mott Haven Library.</p> <p><strong>Thursday<br /></strong>At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will <a href="http://www.manhattancc.org/MCC_Events/MCC_Chairmans_Breakfast_Series.aspx" target="_blank">host</a> a breakfast event focused on combating the rising tide of cybercrime and featuring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.</p> <p><strong>Friday and the weekend<br /></strong>At 1:30 p.m. Friday in Albany, a <a href="http://www.rockinst.org/forumsandevents/upcoming/default.aspx#Constitutional_Convention_Strengthen_Ethics" target="_blank">forum</a>, “Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics?” The event, hosted by The Rockefeller Institute, will feature discussion about whether issues of integrity in government can be fixed statutorily, or if would be better resolved through constitutional change. Speaking will be former NYS Comptroller H. Carl McCall; and Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault, who is also a former assistant counsel to Governor Hugh Carey; as well as a panel of experts.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Saturday, March 26, Participatory Budget voting <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/home.shtml" target="_blank">begins</a> in New York City Council districts running the program. In Participatory Budgeting, Council Members ask New York City residents “to decide how to invest public funds in their neighborhoods.” Voting will take place throughout the nearly 30 participating districts through April 3.</p> <p>***<br />Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>&nbsp;(please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).</p> <p>***<br />by Kelly Fan and Ben Max<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/640px-New_York_City_Hall.jpg" alt="New York City Hall" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">New York City Hall</span></p> <hr /> <p><strong>What to watch for this week in New York politics:</strong></p> <p>This week will be another busy one when it comes to budgets: the City Council continues its preliminary budget hearings and state budget negotiations enter their final ten days - a state budget is due by April 1 and some say a deal could be announced before the end of this week. Don't count on it, though, state budgets usually come in just before (or, as was the case last year, just after) the March 31 midnight deadline. This practice under Governor Andrew Cuomo is actually a serious improvement given that the state used to regularly wind up with late budgets extending weeks past the start of the new fiscal year, which begins April 1.</p> <p>There are a variety of issues to be worked out, with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6226-new-york-city-interests-given-varied-priority-in-three-albany-budget-plans" target="_blank">several of importance to New York City.</a> As always, there are a number of high-profile items, like an increase of the minimum wage or government ethics reform, that could be pushed beyond the budget and into the legislative session to follow. That session runs until mid-June. The budget, after all, only must include necessary state expenses. Expect at least a couple of closed-door meetings among Cuomo and the two legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican. On Monday,&nbsp;City Council "Speaker Mark-Viverito and Council Members will travel to Albany to advocate for the City Council's 2016 State Budget and Legislative Agenda," according to Mark-Viverito's public schedule.</p> <p>Also worth watching in Albany this week, the Assembly will consider internal reforms <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank">announced by Heastie and his conference at the end of this past week</a>. The 40-plus reform proposals received <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6229-assembly-announces-internal-reform-plan-to-mixed-reviews" target="_blank">a mixed reaction</a> from elected officials and good government advocates, but still indicate a number of changes that many have been advocating for years. And, keep an eye out for a related conference in Albany on Friday, which will look at ethics reform through the lens of a state constitutional convention - details below.</p> <p>While it is another busy week of budget hearings at the City Council, the Council will also hold a full-body Stated Meeting on Tuesday, at which new bills will be introduced and the Council will vote on the two high-profile zoning changes - Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) and Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) - that have been the source of months of discussion, negotiation, and controversy, and that are key to Mayor de Blasio's affordable housing plans.</p> <p>As always, there's a great deal happening&nbsp;all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><em>***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?</em><br /><em>E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>***</em></p> <p><strong>The run of the week in detail:</strong></p> <p><strong>Monday<br /></strong>Mayor de Blasio is doing a series of six media appearances to discuss his affordable housing agenda on Monday. He'll be on NPR, 880AM and 710AM radio, and on NY1, NY1 Noticias, and Univision TV.</p> <p>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Monday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 10 a.m. in Albany, following the full <a href="https://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2016/2016-03/meeting-board-regents" target="_blank">meeting</a> of the NYS Board of Regents, the board’s newly-elected Chancellor and Vice Chancellor will hold a press conference with the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.</p> <p dir="ltr">At noon Monday, a coalition of over 90 HIV/AIDS advocates will launch a statewide Week of Action on the steps of City Hall, calling upon Governor Cuomo to invest $70 million in a plan to end AIDS in the 2016 New York State budget.</p> <p dir="ltr"><a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/Calendar.aspx" target="_blank">At the City Council</a> on Monday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 9:30 a.m., the Committee on Health will hold a hearing on a bill to prohibit the use of smokeless tobacco products at sports arenas and recreational areas that require tickets.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At noon, the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Youth Services will discuss a bill requiring the establishment of a training coordinator to teach certain agency staff throughout departments such as Parks and Recreation, Homeless Services, and Human Resources Administration/Social Services how to identify runaway, homeless or sexually exploited youth and how to connect them with appropriate services. The committee will also discuss several technical changes relating to an annual report produced by the Administration for Children’s Services and the Department of Youth and Community Development on the number of sexually exploited youth each agency has come into contact with over the course of the calendar year.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1:30 p.m., the Committee on Higher Education will meet to discuss a resolution to increase State funding to CUNY, and to reach a fair labor agreement with the University’s faculty and staff in the 2016-17 NYS Executive Budget.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 3 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will examine a bill to broaden or incorporate a right to truthful information for a variety of activities covered by the New York City Human Rights Law, including lending, employment, and access to public accommodations and others.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">At 2 p.m. Monday,&nbsp;"First Lady McCray will deliver opening remarks at a panel at Fountain House, an organization dedicated to supporting those living with serious mental illness."</p> <p dir="ltr">At 6 p.m. Monday, the LGBT Task Force of Manhattan Community Boards 9, 10, 11, and 12 will host an <a href="https://twitter.com/galeabrewer/status/709089409115631617" target="_blank">LGBT Resource Fair</a> featuring New York City Agencies. The event is sponsored by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 6:10 p.m. Monday evening,&nbsp;"Mayor Bill de Blasio will discuss affordable housing with an anticipated 10,000+ AARP members from New York City on an interactive call that allows participants to ask questions," according to AARP-NY.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Monday at 6:30 p.m., schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will&nbsp;attend a town hall meeting of District 16's Community Education Council at MS 267 in Brooklyn.</p> <p><strong>Tuesday<br /></strong>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Tuesday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Crain’s New York Business will host an <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#utm_medium=email&amp;utm_source=cnyb-events&amp;utm_campaign=cnyb-events-20160218" target="_blank">event</a> on how startup businesses take off in New York City, featuring: Gregg Bishop, Commissioner, NYC Department of Small Business Services; Howard Lerman, Co-Founder &amp; CEO, Yext; Rachel Shechtman,, Founder and CEO, STORY; Adam Shwartz, Director, Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute at Cornell Tech; and moderated by Matthew Flamm, Senior Reporter, Crain's New York Business.<br /><br />At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the YWCA of New York City will host “its third breakfast <a href="https://www.ywcanyc.org/events/new-york-city-women-leaders-the-power-of-influence-and-purpose/" target="_blank">panel</a> for Women’s History Month “New York City Women Leaders: The Power of Influence and Purpose.” The panel will include Maya Wiley, counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio; City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley; and Carmelyn Malalis, commissioner of the city’s Human Rights Commission; among others.</p> <p dir="ltr">At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Commission on Public Information and Communication will meet to <a href="http://pubadvocate.nyc.gov/news/events/copic-meeting-1" target="_blank">discuss</a> the implementation of the webcasting law and the establishment of a central portal for webcasts.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the City Council on Tuesday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 9 a.m., the Committee on State and Federal Legislation will meet to press for authorization that Christopher Park in Manhattan is discontinued as city parkland.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to approve new designations for certain organizations to receive funding in the expense budget; to communicate the transfer of City funds between various agencies in FY ‘16 in the expense budget; and to communicate the appropriation of new revenues of $982 million in FY ‘16.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1:30 p.m., the City Council will hold a full-body Stated Meeting. The highlight of the hearing will be the Council’s votes on the MIH and ZQA zoning text amendments.</li> <li dir="ltr">Before the Stated, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host a pre-Stated press conference at 12:30.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">Also prior to the Stated Meeting, at noon, City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Ydanis Rodriguez will host a press conference on the steps of City Hall to rally before introducing a bill to create a pilot program for electric vehicle charging stations on street parking. The program hopes to encourage the use of electric cars and reduce carbon emissions citywide.</p> <p><strong>Wednesday<br /></strong>Both houses of the New York State Legislature are in session on Wednesday in Albany.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the City Council on Wednesday:</p> <ul> <li dir="ltr">At 10 a.m., the Subcommittee on Libraries will meet jointly with the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations for a preliminary budget hearing on libraries.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 11 a.m., the Committee on Contracts will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> <li dir="ltr">At 1 p.m., the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet for a preliminary budget hearing.</li> </ul> <p dir="ltr">At 5 p.m. Wednesday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito <a href="https://twitter.com/NYCCD8/status/709758093421387777" target="_blank">will host</a> a Women’s History Month celebration at Mott Haven Library.</p> <p><strong>Thursday<br /></strong>At 8 a.m. Thursday, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will <a href="http://www.manhattancc.org/MCC_Events/MCC_Chairmans_Breakfast_Series.aspx" target="_blank">host</a> a breakfast event focused on combating the rising tide of cybercrime and featuring Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.</p> <p><strong>Friday and the weekend<br /></strong>At 1:30 p.m. Friday in Albany, a <a href="http://www.rockinst.org/forumsandevents/upcoming/default.aspx#Constitutional_Convention_Strengthen_Ethics" target="_blank">forum</a>, “Can a NYS Constitutional Convention Strengthen Government Ethics?” The event, hosted by The Rockefeller Institute, will feature discussion about whether issues of integrity in government can be fixed statutorily, or if would be better resolved through constitutional change. Speaking will be former NYS Comptroller H. Carl McCall; and Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault, who is also a former assistant counsel to Governor Hugh Carey; as well as a panel of experts.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Saturday, March 26, Participatory Budget voting <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pb/home.shtml" target="_blank">begins</a> in New York City Council districts running the program. In Participatory Budgeting, Council Members ask New York City residents “to decide how to invest public funds in their neighborhoods.” Voting will take place throughout the nearly 30 participating districts through April 3.</p> <p>***<br />Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time:&nbsp;<a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com"></a><a href="mailto:bmax@gothamgazette.com">bmax@gothamgazette.com</a>&nbsp;(please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).</p> <p>***<br />by Kelly Fan and Ben Max<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> 'Dangerousness' Aspect of Cuomo's Bail Plan Troubles Reformers 2016-01-22T00:06:24+00:00 2016-01-22T00:06:24+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6106:dangerousness-aspect-of-cuomos-bail-plan-troubles-reformers kfan <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24066622920_97bf7ec09c_z.jpg" alt="cuomo sots solo" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo delivers his State of the State</p> <hr /> <p>In his recently-released policy agenda for 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a plan to reform the state's bail system. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo's proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual's "risk to public safety" while setting bail, a proposal similar to one Mayor Bill de Blasio recently made, with both coming under fire from criminal justice reformers.</p> <p>De Blasio made <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8580623/shifting-tone-de-blasio-proposes-tougher-bail-plan" target="_blank">his call</a> on the state to reform bail laws in the wake of the shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder by an alleged assailant with a long rap sheet of drug-related arrests. The mayor and others attacked the judge who put the alleged shooter into a diversion program instead of setting a high bail and effectively holding him in jail.</p> <p>The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding 'dangerousness' to a judge's evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism, see people charged with nonviolent crimes hit with disproportionate bail because they are deemed to be a threat, and lead to even more jail overcrowding as judges feel the need to remand an increasing number of defendants out of the fear of political blow back.</p> <p>The same groups are now surprised and concerned to see Cuomo is running with the idea.</p> <p>"I think this could make things terribly worse," said Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association. "I think the mayor made a mistake when he called for this. I understand it was after a shooting of a police officer but it's wrongheaded and the governor is wrongheaded in now proposing the same thing the mayor did. We'd be giving a legal protection to the racism that already exists in the system."</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform and a number of Democratic legislators were surprised when presented with Cuomo's bail reform plan given that most of the criminal justice priorities contained in his address and other recent action lined up with major progressive reform agenda items. These include Cuomo's push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and to expand alternatives to incarceration programs.</p> <p>Cuomo's budget book lists the bail plan under the "Fairness For All" section, along with increasing "opportunities for families to stay close during incarceration" and "reward[ing] success after release," among other planks.</p> <p>The governor appears to be making the same argument that de Blasio made, which is that there needs to be more leniency for non-violent offenders, but harsher discipline for those who commit the gravest crimes - or who may commit them.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration intends to utilize a risk-assessment program like <a href="http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/LJAF-research-summary_PSA-Court_4_1.pdf" target="_blank">the one</a> developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that looks to use a fact-based approach to combating societal problems. The program aims to gauge an individual's risk of reoffense by evaluating factors including age, criminal record, and previous failures to appear in court. The foundation has touted the predictive tool as a way to remove biases from the process of setting bail. Criminal justice reformers and public defenders worry it will have the opposite impact.</p> <p>Members of the Cuomo administration stressed that they have yet to settle on a plan, or develop a program bill with the parameters for the program and that any judgement by outside groups is simply uninformed.</p> <p>"Bail reform, when combined with an assessment tool, has the opposite effect of what they are suggesting," Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Cuomo told Gotham Gazette of critics. "What we've seen when it has been implemented in areas of Kentucky and in the city of Chicago is a decrease in crime, a decrease in reoffending, and a decrease in jail population."</p> <p>Nevertheless, advocates are concerned that an impersonal evaluation tool will make it easier for judges to rationalize denying bail.</p> <p>"Over the last couple of years we've been heartened to see an incredible amount of attention paid to the problems with our bail system -- people languishing in jail for years who have not been convicted of anything, who simply can't pay the price for their freedom and how our bail system disproportionately impacts people of color," said Justine Olderman of The Bronx Defenders.</p> <p>"Policy makers have vowed to fix these problems," Olderman said. "Yet at the same time, they call for including dangerousness in the bail statute which will expand the reasons that a person who is presumed innocent can be held in jail. They seem to do so without any recognition that including dangerousness will undermine their bail reform efforts and will only exacerbate our current bail crisis."</p> <p>Lately, the conversation about bail has focused on preventing the poor from disproportionately <a href="http://www.vice.com/video/inside-americas-for-profit-bail-system" target="_blank">having to serve jail time</a> when they can't afford to pay even small amounts of bail for minor crimes. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced plans to back a bail fund, then de Blasio followed suit with a public bail fund, followed by Democratic state Senator Michael Gianaris introducing legislation that would <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-lawmaker-proposes-eliminating-bail-1443662459" target="_blank">eliminate</a> cash bail for certain individuals.</p> <p>Gianaris said that he hopes there will be room for discussion of his plan given that the governor put the concept of bail reform in his 2016 agenda. "The debate is long overdue," said Gianaris. "The bail system has no rational basis. It just imprisons poor people who have not been convicted, the rich simply pay bail."</p> <p>Gianaris acknowledged that the concept of basing bail on dangerousness has split progressives in the past. "This has been an ongoing debate with progressives falling on different sides of it. My bill doesn't change what a judge considers. It just does away with the financial component of bail."</p> <p>Advocates say Cuomo's proposal simply doesn't jive with the rest of his progressive criminal justice agenda.</p> <p>"I was surprised to see this in the same agenda with 'raise the age' and other criminal justice reforms," said Justine Luongo, who is the attorney in charge of Legal Aid Society's legal practice. "I understand why you would go this route: you want to prevent terrible tragedies, but this leads us down the wrong path."</p> <p>Cuomo's 2016&nbsp;<a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy book</a> states that New York is one of four states that do not require judges to consider public safety when setting bail and that the current "approach means that people in New York who do not present a risk to public safety are detained while people who may present a risk to public safety are able to post bail and gain release."</p> <p>The policy book goes on to say: "Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to require judges to consider public safety when making release and bail decisions. The legislation will also permit judges to use research-based, accepted risk assessments when considering a defendant's threat to public safety. Other states and cities are using these risk assessments with good results: more people are released from jail before trial, without any attendant rise in crime."</p> <p>The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/turning-the-granting-of-bail-into-a-science.html?_r=0" target="_blank">reported</a> in June that a North Carolina precinct that has implemented the Arnold Foundation's assessment tool has seen its jail population drop by 20 percent.</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who said he was very pleased by the majority of Cuomo's criminal justice agenda, was taken aback by the bail proposal. "As far as the bail proposal and my current understanding of it, I am deeply concerned that it might be going toward preventive detention," Rivera, who has backed a bail fund in the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette. "The state moved away from that, it rejected that in the past."</p> <p>The state legislature has periodically debated having judges consider dangerousness since the 1970s, but in the end has decided against it.</p> <p>"I think conceptually most people support judges being able to consider public safety when setting bail," said David, Cuomo's counsel.</p> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has advocated for this particular change to the state's criminal justice law. "My Office has long supported a change to the state's antiquated law that only permits us to take an individual's risk of flight into account when setting bail," Vance said in a statement in July that was issued as part of an announcement touting a $17.8 million commitment from de Blasio to supervise 3,000 defendants as part of a community release program designed to avoid bail or jail time before trial.</p> <p>"Today, I'm calling on Albany to amend that law to enable prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys to also evaluate dangerousness and risk of re-offending when making bail determinations, as is the practice in nearly every other state in this country," Vance's July statement continued. "The use of an updated science-driven risk assessment tool will help actors in the criminal justice system better understand who can safely be released and supervised in the community while awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>Reform advocates and a number of public defenders said they've seen no proof that states that consider dangerousness are actually preventing crime. They insist that only a small portion of those released on bail actually go on to be rearrested while awaiting trial.</p> <p>"I have not come across any empirical data that New York has greater rearrest rates than any community with a dangerous statute," said Olderman.</p> <p>Advocates fear the assessment tool will be used to jail a larger swath of people who haven't been found guilty of any crime, that judges will tend toward remanding defendants rather than posting bail for fear that there could be political backlash should someone out on bail is accused of another crime.</p> <p>"We are very concerned there will be findings of dangerousness by this assessment tool in cases where there is no nexus with violence," said Luongo. She said that a youth with a history of non-violent misdemeanors could be deemed dangerous because of assessment criteria.</p> <p>"In the current system a number of factors are already taken into account when setting bail, in domestic violence cases for example. We have registries for gun offenders and domestic violence, a judge can already take dangerousness into account," said Luongo. "Our concern is here that we are talking about predictive, preventative detention. It is troubling that the governor is not talking about striking a balance, doing away with bail in misdemeanor cases as former Chief Judge Lippman has suggested."</p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, who was forced into retirement recently due to age restrictions on his position, has long pushed the legislature to overhaul the state's bail system as he has argued it disproportionately impacts the poor, forcing those unable to pay even the smallest bail to serve long jail terms before trial and thereby destroying any chance they have at a normal life. However, Lippman has advocated the state to move on the bail reform de Blasio and Cuomo are pushing for. In August, Lippman defended de Blasio's stance in <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">an interview</a> with Politico New York in October.</p> <p>"I think they're fearful of this idea of preventive detention, but at some point you have to have confidence in judges and their judgement — that's what judges are there for — and you have to have a balanced bail statute that makes some sense and keeps violent people in, and there's a presumption that people who are not violent, and won't hurt anybody, are at their job and with their families and out on the street," Lippman said of Legal Aid Society criticism, <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">according to Politico New York</a>.</p> <p>Legal Aid Society is also concerned that once a judge labels someone "dangerous" it could become very difficult to lose the label even in the face of facts. Luongo said that facts in cases can quickly change as seen in the recent highly-publicized Brownsville group rape case. "If one judge finds a defendant "dangerous," who is going to be willing to reverse that? Are judges going to be willing to step on another judge's toes?"</p> <p>Robyn Pangi of The District Attorneys Association of New York told Gotham Gazette that her organization had not yet seen any specifics of Cuomo's plan. "District Attorneys would like to be involved in conversations regarding changes to the current bail system, particularly a proposal that takes into account the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail," Pangi said in a statement. "DAs are interested in different mechanisms of pretrial detention, but stress that any sound proposal must take into account public safety and allow for prosecutorial appeal of the judge's decision in cases where the DA feels that public safety has not been given sufficient consideration."</p> <p>There may not be much room for debate on the proposal this year as many important Democratic legislators are opposed to the idea from the get-go.</p> <p>"I think this is a non-starter," said Gradess, of New York State Defenders Association.</p> <p>Albany can be a place of trade-offs, though, and Cuomo could work to convince initial opponents to agree to a full package of bail reforms that also satisfy what they would see as progress.</p> <p>Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, told Gotham Gazette that he would be surprised to see opposition to the plan once the administration releases its full bill. "We can't be driven by fears, we have to be driven by data," said David. "We don't legislate based on fear, we legislate based on data."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24066622920_97bf7ec09c_z.jpg" alt="cuomo sots solo" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo delivers his State of the State</p> <hr /> <p>In his recently-released policy agenda for 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo included a plan to reform the state's bail system. While it has not been fully fleshed out yet, Cuomo's proposal dictates that judges would use a scientific assessment tool to determine an individual's "risk to public safety" while setting bail, a proposal similar to one Mayor Bill de Blasio recently made, with both coming under fire from criminal justice reformers.</p> <p>De Blasio made <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/city-hall/2015/10/8580623/shifting-tone-de-blasio-proposes-tougher-bail-plan" target="_blank">his call</a> on the state to reform bail laws in the wake of the shooting of NYPD Officer Randolph Holder by an alleged assailant with a long rap sheet of drug-related arrests. The mayor and others attacked the judge who put the alleged shooter into a diversion program instead of setting a high bail and effectively holding him in jail.</p> <p>The plan was criticized by public defenders and criminal justice reform groups as a step in the wrong direction. Groups like Legal Aid Society are concerned adding 'dangerousness' to a judge's evaluation of an individual could lead to preemptive detention and institutionalized racism, see people charged with nonviolent crimes hit with disproportionate bail because they are deemed to be a threat, and lead to even more jail overcrowding as judges feel the need to remand an increasing number of defendants out of the fear of political blow back.</p> <p>The same groups are now surprised and concerned to see Cuomo is running with the idea.</p> <p>"I think this could make things terribly worse," said Jonathan Gradess, executive director of the New York State Defenders Association. "I think the mayor made a mistake when he called for this. I understand it was after a shooting of a police officer but it's wrongheaded and the governor is wrongheaded in now proposing the same thing the mayor did. We'd be giving a legal protection to the racism that already exists in the system."</p> <p>Advocates for criminal justice reform and a number of Democratic legislators were surprised when presented with Cuomo's bail reform plan given that most of the criminal justice priorities contained in his address and other recent action lined up with major progressive reform agenda items. These include Cuomo's push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 and to expand alternatives to incarceration programs.</p> <p>Cuomo's budget book lists the bail plan under the "Fairness For All" section, along with increasing "opportunities for families to stay close during incarceration" and "reward[ing] success after release," among other planks.</p> <p>The governor appears to be making the same argument that de Blasio made, which is that there needs to be more leniency for non-violent offenders, but harsher discipline for those who commit the gravest crimes - or who may commit them.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration intends to utilize a risk-assessment program like <a href="http://www.arnoldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/LJAF-research-summary_PSA-Court_4_1.pdf" target="_blank">the one</a> developed by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that looks to use a fact-based approach to combating societal problems. The program aims to gauge an individual's risk of reoffense by evaluating factors including age, criminal record, and previous failures to appear in court. The foundation has touted the predictive tool as a way to remove biases from the process of setting bail. Criminal justice reformers and public defenders worry it will have the opposite impact.</p> <p>Members of the Cuomo administration stressed that they have yet to settle on a plan, or develop a program bill with the parameters for the program and that any judgement by outside groups is simply uninformed.</p> <p>"Bail reform, when combined with an assessment tool, has the opposite effect of what they are suggesting," Alphonso David, counsel to Governor Cuomo told Gotham Gazette of critics. "What we've seen when it has been implemented in areas of Kentucky and in the city of Chicago is a decrease in crime, a decrease in reoffending, and a decrease in jail population."</p> <p>Nevertheless, advocates are concerned that an impersonal evaluation tool will make it easier for judges to rationalize denying bail.</p> <p>"Over the last couple of years we've been heartened to see an incredible amount of attention paid to the problems with our bail system -- people languishing in jail for years who have not been convicted of anything, who simply can't pay the price for their freedom and how our bail system disproportionately impacts people of color," said Justine Olderman of The Bronx Defenders.</p> <p>"Policy makers have vowed to fix these problems," Olderman said. "Yet at the same time, they call for including dangerousness in the bail statute which will expand the reasons that a person who is presumed innocent can be held in jail. They seem to do so without any recognition that including dangerousness will undermine their bail reform efforts and will only exacerbate our current bail crisis."</p> <p>Lately, the conversation about bail has focused on preventing the poor from disproportionately <a href="http://www.vice.com/video/inside-americas-for-profit-bail-system" target="_blank">having to serve jail time</a> when they can't afford to pay even small amounts of bail for minor crimes. City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito first announced plans to back a bail fund, then de Blasio followed suit with a public bail fund, followed by Democratic state Senator Michael Gianaris introducing legislation that would <a href="http://www.wsj.com/articles/n-y-lawmaker-proposes-eliminating-bail-1443662459" target="_blank">eliminate</a> cash bail for certain individuals.</p> <p>Gianaris said that he hopes there will be room for discussion of his plan given that the governor put the concept of bail reform in his 2016 agenda. "The debate is long overdue," said Gianaris. "The bail system has no rational basis. It just imprisons poor people who have not been convicted, the rich simply pay bail."</p> <p>Gianaris acknowledged that the concept of basing bail on dangerousness has split progressives in the past. "This has been an ongoing debate with progressives falling on different sides of it. My bill doesn't change what a judge considers. It just does away with the financial component of bail."</p> <p>Advocates say Cuomo's proposal simply doesn't jive with the rest of his progressive criminal justice agenda.</p> <p>"I was surprised to see this in the same agenda with 'raise the age' and other criminal justice reforms," said Justine Luongo, who is the attorney in charge of Legal Aid Society's legal practice. "I understand why you would go this route: you want to prevent terrible tragedies, but this leads us down the wrong path."</p> <p>Cuomo's 2016&nbsp;<a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/2016_State_of_the_State_Book.pdf" target="_blank">policy book</a> states that New York is one of four states that do not require judges to consider public safety when setting bail and that the current "approach means that people in New York who do not present a risk to public safety are detained while people who may present a risk to public safety are able to post bail and gain release."</p> <p>The policy book goes on to say: "Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to require judges to consider public safety when making release and bail decisions. The legislation will also permit judges to use research-based, accepted risk assessments when considering a defendant's threat to public safety. Other states and cities are using these risk assessments with good results: more people are released from jail before trial, without any attendant rise in crime."</p> <p>The New York Times <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/27/us/turning-the-granting-of-bail-into-a-science.html?_r=0" target="_blank">reported</a> in June that a North Carolina precinct that has implemented the Arnold Foundation's assessment tool has seen its jail population drop by 20 percent.</p> <p>State Senator Gustavo Rivera, who said he was very pleased by the majority of Cuomo's criminal justice agenda, was taken aback by the bail proposal. "As far as the bail proposal and my current understanding of it, I am deeply concerned that it might be going toward preventive detention," Rivera, who has backed a bail fund in the Bronx, told Gotham Gazette. "The state moved away from that, it rejected that in the past."</p> <p>The state legislature has periodically debated having judges consider dangerousness since the 1970s, but in the end has decided against it.</p> <p>"I think conceptually most people support judges being able to consider public safety when setting bail," said David, Cuomo's counsel.</p> <p>Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has advocated for this particular change to the state's criminal justice law. "My Office has long supported a change to the state's antiquated law that only permits us to take an individual's risk of flight into account when setting bail," Vance said in a statement in July that was issued as part of an announcement touting a $17.8 million commitment from de Blasio to supervise 3,000 defendants as part of a community release program designed to avoid bail or jail time before trial.</p> <p>"Today, I'm calling on Albany to amend that law to enable prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys to also evaluate dangerousness and risk of re-offending when making bail determinations, as is the practice in nearly every other state in this country," Vance's July statement continued. "The use of an updated science-driven risk assessment tool will help actors in the criminal justice system better understand who can safely be released and supervised in the community while awaiting their day in court."</p> <p>Reform advocates and a number of public defenders said they've seen no proof that states that consider dangerousness are actually preventing crime. They insist that only a small portion of those released on bail actually go on to be rearrested while awaiting trial.</p> <p>"I have not come across any empirical data that New York has greater rearrest rates than any community with a dangerous statute," said Olderman.</p> <p>Advocates fear the assessment tool will be used to jail a larger swath of people who haven't been found guilty of any crime, that judges will tend toward remanding defendants rather than posting bail for fear that there could be political backlash should someone out on bail is accused of another crime.</p> <p>"We are very concerned there will be findings of dangerousness by this assessment tool in cases where there is no nexus with violence," said Luongo. She said that a youth with a history of non-violent misdemeanors could be deemed dangerous because of assessment criteria.</p> <p>"In the current system a number of factors are already taken into account when setting bail, in domestic violence cases for example. We have registries for gun offenders and domestic violence, a judge can already take dangerousness into account," said Luongo. "Our concern is here that we are talking about predictive, preventative detention. It is troubling that the governor is not talking about striking a balance, doing away with bail in misdemeanor cases as former Chief Judge Lippman has suggested."</p> <p>Jonathan Lippman, who was forced into retirement recently due to age restrictions on his position, has long pushed the legislature to overhaul the state's bail system as he has argued it disproportionately impacts the poor, forcing those unable to pay even the smallest bail to serve long jail terms before trial and thereby destroying any chance they have at a normal life. However, Lippman has advocated the state to move on the bail reform de Blasio and Cuomo are pushing for. In August, Lippman defended de Blasio's stance in <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">an interview</a> with Politico New York in October.</p> <p>"I think they're fearful of this idea of preventive detention, but at some point you have to have confidence in judges and their judgement — that's what judges are there for — and you have to have a balanced bail statute that makes some sense and keeps violent people in, and there's a presumption that people who are not violent, and won't hurt anybody, are at their job and with their families and out on the street," Lippman said of Legal Aid Society criticism, <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8581379/politico-new-york%E2%80%99s-public-law-report-lippman-backs-de-blasio-bail-si" target="_blank">according to Politico New York</a>.</p> <p>Legal Aid Society is also concerned that once a judge labels someone "dangerous" it could become very difficult to lose the label even in the face of facts. Luongo said that facts in cases can quickly change as seen in the recent highly-publicized Brownsville group rape case. "If one judge finds a defendant "dangerous," who is going to be willing to reverse that? Are judges going to be willing to step on another judge's toes?"</p> <p>Robyn Pangi of The District Attorneys Association of New York told Gotham Gazette that her organization had not yet seen any specifics of Cuomo's plan. "District Attorneys would like to be involved in conversations regarding changes to the current bail system, particularly a proposal that takes into account the dangerousness of a defendant when setting bail," Pangi said in a statement. "DAs are interested in different mechanisms of pretrial detention, but stress that any sound proposal must take into account public safety and allow for prosecutorial appeal of the judge's decision in cases where the DA feels that public safety has not been given sufficient consideration."</p> <p>There may not be much room for debate on the proposal this year as many important Democratic legislators are opposed to the idea from the get-go.</p> <p>"I think this is a non-starter," said Gradess, of New York State Defenders Association.</p> <p>Albany can be a place of trade-offs, though, and Cuomo could work to convince initial opponents to agree to a full package of bail reforms that also satisfy what they would see as progress.</p> <p>Cuomo's counsel, Alphonso David, told Gotham Gazette that he would be surprised to see opposition to the plan once the administration releases its full bill. "We can't be driven by fears, we have to be driven by data," said David. "We don't legislate based on fear, we legislate based on data."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> Incoming DAs Plan to Join Thompson and Vance Warrant-Clearing Efforts 2015-11-24T03:52:49+00:00 2015-11-24T03:52:49+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6005:incoming-das-plan-to-join-thompson-and-vance-warrant-clearing-efforts Super User <p dir="ltr"><img alt="vance bratton nypdnews" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/vance_bratton_nypdnews.jpg" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">DA Vance with Commissioner Bratton, photo via @NYPDNews</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to reduce the city’s backlog of <a href="http://manhattanda.org/video-gallery/da-vance-nypd-oca-and-legal-aid-announce-upcoming-clean-slate-summons-warrant-forgiven" target="_blank">1.3 million</a> open arrest warrants for unanswered summonses for non-violent offenses such as being in a park after dark, having an open container of alcohol, and littering, city district attorneys are holding amnesty events, giving New Yorkers with warrants a chance to clear up the original summons without fear of arrest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance held such an event in Harlem on Saturday, offering anyone with an open warrant for failing to answer a summons a chance for a hearing before a judge - which often leads to a dismissal and a cleared record.</p> <p dir="ltr">The event, dubbed “Clean Slate,” is the first of it’s kind in Manhattan, according to the district attorney’s office, and comes fives months after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson held his first summons- and summons warrant-clearing event, “<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">Begin Again</a>.” Thompson has since held a second Begin Again event and has a third scheduled for early December. Meanwhile, two new district attorneys - in the Bronx and Staten Island - were elected November 3, and both have told Gotham Gazette they plan to hold similar events once they take office.</p> <p dir="ltr">While DA-elect Darcel Clark of the Bronx and DA-elect Michael McMahon of Staten Island both intend to offer something similar to Clean Slate and Begin Again, long-time Queens District Attorney Richard Brown does not. A spokesperson for Brown, who just won <a href="http://www.queensda.org/dabiography.html" target="_blank">a seventh four-year term</a>, told Gotham Gazette he has no such plans.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a sad fact that for individuals who have open warrants for minor infractions called summonses, there is a fear that's constant that they will be arrested,” Vance said at <a href="http://manhattanda.org/video-gallery/da-vance-nypd-oca-and-legal-aid-announce-upcoming-clean-slate-summons-warrant-forgiven" target="_blank">a November 17 press conference</a> launching Clean Slate. “Emotionally and psychologically, those weigh down those who hold those outstanding warrants, and [those warrants] have real consequences - they can affect the warrant holder's immigration status; they can hurt an individual's chance of getting a job; or prevent him or her from enlisting in the armed services.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“If there is an arrest, that years-old case must still come through an already overburdened court system,” Vance noted, saying that he was motivated to host Manhattan’s first summons warrant amnesty event to give “individuals with minor offenses that are outstanding a fresh start, and for efficiency in our courts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The success of Thompson’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">first Begin Again event</a>, held in June, led him to put together another two summons warrant-clearing events this year, with the next one planned for December 5. On Saturday morning at the event, Vance told assembled members of the media that given the good turnout for his first Clean Slate event, he is optimistic about holding more in the future, and would like to host such events on a quarterly basis.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hosting Clean Slate and Begin Again events has required the NYPD, judges, clerks, the Office of Court Administration, public defenders, volunteers from the Legal Aid Society, and the community to work together to set up an off-site courtroom for one day. They’ve involved significant awareness and outreach efforts by the DA offices and community partners to spread the word - often on flyers that attempt to make it clear that people with warrants for these “low-level” offenses should not fear arrest at the event.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so many stakeholders willing to collaborate in order hold an event that “helps the person who has the warrant, helps protect our officers so they’re not put in dangerous positions with people who have warrants, who may try to flee or resist arrest, helps our overburdened court system, and helps to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community,” as Brooklyn DA Thompson told Gotham Gazette, the question remains: will the city’s three other district attorneys follow suit?</p> <p dir="ltr">Spokespeople for Clark, of the Bronx, and McMahon, of Staten Island, told Gotham Gazette that each of the newly elected DAs, both Democrats, do indeed plan to hold such events. (All five DAs will be Democrats after Clark and McMahon are sworn in.)</p> <p dir="ltr">"District Attorney-Elect Michael McMahon has said that he believes programs like Begin Again and Clean Slate have merit and value, particularly in giving individuals and veterans an opportunity to start fresh and clear their names from summons violations for low-level offenses, such as walking a dog without a leash or being in a park after closing, that may impact their ability to get a job or access needed services,” Ashleigh Owens, spokesperson for McMahon, said in a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As District Attorney, he'll look to evaluate options and secure resources for bringing a similar program to Staten Island," Owens added.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Once in office, Bronx District Attorney-elect Clark is committed to working to find solutions that will clear backlogged arrest warrants for summonses, which includes potentially holding amnesty events," Ryan Monell, a spokesperson for Clark told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens DA Brown currently has no intention of offering any sort of amnesty program in Queens. Kevin Ryan, a spokesperson for Brown, told Gotham Gazette, “We have no plans to offer an amnesty program at this time, as Queens maintains the lowest failure to appear in court rate in the City.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Additionally,” Ryan continued, “any blanket amnesty program would be unfair to those individuals who assume full responsibility for their actions by appearing in court when their cases are scheduled and paying their summonses. Beyond that, individuals can avail themselves of such amnesty programs whenever they become available in other boroughs."</p> <p dir="ltr">Indeed, the events being held by other DAs are open to anyone with a summons warrant, regardless of where an individual lives or was cited for a violation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet even if four of the city’s district attorneys were to hold amnesty events for summons warrants on a regular basis, it would take decades to significantly reduce the city’s 1.3 million outstanding arrest warrants for summonses. According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s <a href="http://brooklynda.org/begin-again/" target="_blank">office</a>, Thompson’s Begin Again initiative has “helped nearly 2,000 New Yorkers and has cleared more than 1,300 outstanding summons warrants,” while hundreds of New Yorkers lined up to clear their records at Vance’s Clean Slate event this Saturday.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hypothetically, if four DAs each held four amnesty events per year and cleared an average of 650 warrants at each event, a total of 10,400 summons warrants could be cleared each year - not even one percent of 1.3 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s also important to take into account the fact that in 2014, an average of 985 summons were issued <a href="http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/news/Summons_Report_DRAFT_4_24_2015_v8.pdf" target="_blank">each day</a> in New York City. According to the Mayor’s Office, in 2014, a total of <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">359,432</a> summonses were issued citywide - 38 percent of which resulted in an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court.</p> <p dir="ltr">If roughly 136,584 summons warrants are being added to the million-plus backlog each year, amnesty events alone will never be able to eliminate the tally of summons warrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">That is not to say that such events aren’t worthwhile, as the participating DAs, public defenders, and others would argue. Many New Yorkers clapped, cheered, and profusely thanked nearby volunteers upon exiting the Soul Saving Station Church on Saturday at Vance’s Clean Slate event. Some walked away with the white slip of paper informing them of their Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal clutched between their hands, staring at it and smiling, while others threw their hands up into the air and shouted “I’m free!” and “Clean Slate, baby!” <br /><br />What’s more, clearing the backlog of arrest warrants for such minor offenses frees up the NYPD and the courts to devote resources to areas with greater need. “We should free our officers to deal with gun violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault - serious crimes,” Thompson said. “Everyone benefits with a Begin Again program. This is being smart on crime, helping reform the criminal justice system, and working together with the community to show that law enforcement and the community can stand as one.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet it is clear to many that a more comprehensive approach must be taken to deal with the city’s staggering backlog of summons warrants - one which grows daily.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The root of the problem is overcriminalization for low-level, quality of life offenses,” Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Courts and Legal Services Committee, told Gotham Gazette. Lancman wants to see some violations made civil, as opposed to criminal. “If I get a ticket for putting my trash out too early, and I forgot to pay it on time, I don’t get arrested. I get a penalty, and I’ll pay my fine,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked whether any reforms to tackle “the root of the problem” were currently underway, Lancman replied, “Not directly. We are pushing to have some of the low-level quality of life offenses processed through the civil justice system, though that would be prospective, not retroactive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">About 40 percent of New Yorkers who receive a summons fail to appear in court for the date specified on their summons, automatically triggering a warrant for their arrest. There are a number of reasons people may miss their court appearance: immigrants may fear deportation, some may not be able to pay the fines issued to them, some aren’t able to miss work - but more simply than that, many do not understand what is required of them, and don’t know that a warrant will be issued for their arrest if they fail to appear.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of reforms have been put in place this year to address this issue. In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">announced</a> a new initiative, called “Justice Reboot,” to modernize the criminal justice system. Part of the pilot program aims to make the summons process easier to understand and navigate by simplifying the design of the summons form and providing a wider window of time for individuals who have received a summons to appear in court.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have taken steps to make summons court more user friendly,” Lancman explained. “Hopefully, by instituting night hours, by allowing people to pay their fines online once they have pled guilty, and by providing people with electronic alerts to let them know about an upcoming court appearance, we will reduce the number of bench warrants issued in the future.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has expressed support of amnesty as a means to clear the case backlog. “Warrants never go away. There’s no expiration date,” Bratton said in an interview with the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/17/12-million-open-warrants-new-york_n_7301146.html" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>. “It would be great to get rid of a lot of that backlog. It’s not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton, however, has not looked kindly upon the City Council’s attempts to address the “root of the problem” by decriminalizing quality-of-life offenses. Yet, Bratton has expressed commitment to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5977-peace-dividend-approach-continues-bratton-and-de-blasio-say" target="_blank">what he has called “the peace dividend” approach</a> he is taking, whereby because the city is much safer than it once was, the NYPD can use more discretion. Still, this may mean more summonses rather than arrests, which does not help the summons-warrant problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think these individual programs that DAs are running are good progress and I’m very supportive of them,” Council Member Lancman said, “but we really need a larger, more macro strategy for dealing with this extraordinary number of arrest warrants.”&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p> <p dir="ltr"><img alt="vance bratton nypdnews" src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/vance_bratton_nypdnews.jpg" width="600" height="450" /></p> <p dir="ltr">DA Vance with Commissioner Bratton, photo via @NYPDNews</p> <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to reduce the city’s backlog of <a href="http://manhattanda.org/video-gallery/da-vance-nypd-oca-and-legal-aid-announce-upcoming-clean-slate-summons-warrant-forgiven" target="_blank">1.3 million</a> open arrest warrants for unanswered summonses for non-violent offenses such as being in a park after dark, having an open container of alcohol, and littering, city district attorneys are holding amnesty events, giving New Yorkers with warrants a chance to clear up the original summons without fear of arrest.</p> <p dir="ltr">Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance held such an event in Harlem on Saturday, offering anyone with an open warrant for failing to answer a summons a chance for a hearing before a judge - which often leads to a dismissal and a cleared record.</p> <p dir="ltr">The event, dubbed “Clean Slate,” is the first of it’s kind in Manhattan, according to the district attorney’s office, and comes fives months after Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson held his first summons- and summons warrant-clearing event, “<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">Begin Again</a>.” Thompson has since held a second Begin Again event and has a third scheduled for early December. Meanwhile, two new district attorneys - in the Bronx and Staten Island - were elected November 3, and both have told Gotham Gazette they plan to hold similar events once they take office.</p> <p dir="ltr">While DA-elect Darcel Clark of the Bronx and DA-elect Michael McMahon of Staten Island both intend to offer something similar to Clean Slate and Begin Again, long-time Queens District Attorney Richard Brown does not. A spokesperson for Brown, who just won <a href="http://www.queensda.org/dabiography.html" target="_blank">a seventh four-year term</a>, told Gotham Gazette he has no such plans.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It is a sad fact that for individuals who have open warrants for minor infractions called summonses, there is a fear that's constant that they will be arrested,” Vance said at <a href="http://manhattanda.org/video-gallery/da-vance-nypd-oca-and-legal-aid-announce-upcoming-clean-slate-summons-warrant-forgiven" target="_blank">a November 17 press conference</a> launching Clean Slate. “Emotionally and psychologically, those weigh down those who hold those outstanding warrants, and [those warrants] have real consequences - they can affect the warrant holder's immigration status; they can hurt an individual's chance of getting a job; or prevent him or her from enlisting in the armed services.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“If there is an arrest, that years-old case must still come through an already overburdened court system,” Vance noted, saying that he was motivated to host Manhattan’s first summons warrant amnesty event to give “individuals with minor offenses that are outstanding a fresh start, and for efficiency in our courts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The success of Thompson’s <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5824-at-begin-again-signs-of-new-approach-to-broken-justice-system" target="_blank">first Begin Again event</a>, held in June, led him to put together another two summons warrant-clearing events this year, with the next one planned for December 5. On Saturday morning at the event, Vance told assembled members of the media that given the good turnout for his first Clean Slate event, he is optimistic about holding more in the future, and would like to host such events on a quarterly basis.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hosting Clean Slate and Begin Again events has required the NYPD, judges, clerks, the Office of Court Administration, public defenders, volunteers from the Legal Aid Society, and the community to work together to set up an off-site courtroom for one day. They’ve involved significant awareness and outreach efforts by the DA offices and community partners to spread the word - often on flyers that attempt to make it clear that people with warrants for these “low-level” offenses should not fear arrest at the event.</p> <p dir="ltr">With so many stakeholders willing to collaborate in order hold an event that “helps the person who has the warrant, helps protect our officers so they’re not put in dangerous positions with people who have warrants, who may try to flee or resist arrest, helps our overburdened court system, and helps to strengthen the relationship between law enforcement and the community,” as Brooklyn DA Thompson told Gotham Gazette, the question remains: will the city’s three other district attorneys follow suit?</p> <p dir="ltr">Spokespeople for Clark, of the Bronx, and McMahon, of Staten Island, told Gotham Gazette that each of the newly elected DAs, both Democrats, do indeed plan to hold such events. (All five DAs will be Democrats after Clark and McMahon are sworn in.)</p> <p dir="ltr">"District Attorney-Elect Michael McMahon has said that he believes programs like Begin Again and Clean Slate have merit and value, particularly in giving individuals and veterans an opportunity to start fresh and clear their names from summons violations for low-level offenses, such as walking a dog without a leash or being in a park after closing, that may impact their ability to get a job or access needed services,” Ashleigh Owens, spokesperson for McMahon, said in a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">“As District Attorney, he'll look to evaluate options and secure resources for bringing a similar program to Staten Island," Owens added.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Once in office, Bronx District Attorney-elect Clark is committed to working to find solutions that will clear backlogged arrest warrants for summonses, which includes potentially holding amnesty events," Ryan Monell, a spokesperson for Clark told Gotham Gazette.</p> <p dir="ltr">Queens DA Brown currently has no intention of offering any sort of amnesty program in Queens. Kevin Ryan, a spokesperson for Brown, told Gotham Gazette, “We have no plans to offer an amnesty program at this time, as Queens maintains the lowest failure to appear in court rate in the City.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Additionally,” Ryan continued, “any blanket amnesty program would be unfair to those individuals who assume full responsibility for their actions by appearing in court when their cases are scheduled and paying their summonses. Beyond that, individuals can avail themselves of such amnesty programs whenever they become available in other boroughs."</p> <p dir="ltr">Indeed, the events being held by other DAs are open to anyone with a summons warrant, regardless of where an individual lives or was cited for a violation.</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet even if four of the city’s district attorneys were to hold amnesty events for summons warrants on a regular basis, it would take decades to significantly reduce the city’s 1.3 million outstanding arrest warrants for summonses. According to the Brooklyn District Attorney’s <a href="http://brooklynda.org/begin-again/" target="_blank">office</a>, Thompson’s Begin Again initiative has “helped nearly 2,000 New Yorkers and has cleared more than 1,300 outstanding summons warrants,” while hundreds of New Yorkers lined up to clear their records at Vance’s Clean Slate event this Saturday.</p> <p dir="ltr">Hypothetically, if four DAs each held four amnesty events per year and cleared an average of 650 warrants at each event, a total of 10,400 summons warrants could be cleared each year - not even one percent of 1.3 million.</p> <p dir="ltr">It’s also important to take into account the fact that in 2014, an average of 985 summons were issued <a href="http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/news/Summons_Report_DRAFT_4_24_2015_v8.pdf" target="_blank">each day</a> in New York City. According to the Mayor’s Office, in 2014, a total of <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">359,432</a> summonses were issued citywide - 38 percent of which resulted in an arrest warrant for failure to appear in court.</p> <p dir="ltr">If roughly 136,584 summons warrants are being added to the million-plus backlog each year, amnesty events alone will never be able to eliminate the tally of summons warrants.</p> <p dir="ltr">That is not to say that such events aren’t worthwhile, as the participating DAs, public defenders, and others would argue. Many New Yorkers clapped, cheered, and profusely thanked nearby volunteers upon exiting the Soul Saving Station Church on Saturday at Vance’s Clean Slate event. Some walked away with the white slip of paper informing them of their Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal clutched between their hands, staring at it and smiling, while others threw their hands up into the air and shouted “I’m free!” and “Clean Slate, baby!” <br /><br />What’s more, clearing the backlog of arrest warrants for such minor offenses frees up the NYPD and the courts to devote resources to areas with greater need. “We should free our officers to deal with gun violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault - serious crimes,” Thompson said. “Everyone benefits with a Begin Again program. This is being smart on crime, helping reform the criminal justice system, and working together with the community to show that law enforcement and the community can stand as one.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet it is clear to many that a more comprehensive approach must be taken to deal with the city’s staggering backlog of summons warrants - one which grows daily.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The root of the problem is overcriminalization for low-level, quality of life offenses,” Council Member Rory Lancman, Chair of the Courts and Legal Services Committee, told Gotham Gazette. Lancman wants to see some violations made civil, as opposed to criminal. “If I get a ticket for putting my trash out too early, and I forgot to pay it on time, I don’t get arrested. I get a penalty, and I’ll pay my fine,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked whether any reforms to tackle “the root of the problem” were currently underway, Lancman replied, “Not directly. We are pushing to have some of the low-level quality of life offenses processed through the civil justice system, though that would be prospective, not retroactive.”</p> <p dir="ltr">About 40 percent of New Yorkers who receive a summons fail to appear in court for the date specified on their summons, automatically triggering a warrant for their arrest. There are a number of reasons people may miss their court appearance: immigrants may fear deportation, some may not be able to pay the fines issued to them, some aren’t able to miss work - but more simply than that, many do not understand what is required of them, and don’t know that a warrant will be issued for their arrest if they fail to appear.</p> <p dir="ltr">A number of reforms have been put in place this year to address this issue. In April, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">announced</a> a new initiative, called “Justice Reboot,” to modernize the criminal justice system. Part of the pilot program aims to make the summons process easier to understand and navigate by simplifying the design of the summons form and providing a wider window of time for individuals who have received a summons to appear in court.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We have taken steps to make summons court more user friendly,” Lancman explained. “Hopefully, by instituting night hours, by allowing people to pay their fines online once they have pled guilty, and by providing people with electronic alerts to let them know about an upcoming court appearance, we will reduce the number of bench warrants issued in the future.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Even NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton has expressed support of amnesty as a means to clear the case backlog. “Warrants never go away. There’s no expiration date,” Bratton said in an interview with the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/17/12-million-open-warrants-new-york_n_7301146.html" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>. “It would be great to get rid of a lot of that backlog. It’s not to our benefit from a policing standpoint to have all those warrants floating around out there.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Bratton, however, has not looked kindly upon the City Council’s attempts to address the “root of the problem” by decriminalizing quality-of-life offenses. Yet, Bratton has expressed commitment to <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5977-peace-dividend-approach-continues-bratton-and-de-blasio-say" target="_blank">what he has called “the peace dividend” approach</a> he is taking, whereby because the city is much safer than it once was, the NYPD can use more discretion. Still, this may mean more summonses rather than arrests, which does not help the summons-warrant problem.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think these individual programs that DAs are running are good progress and I’m very supportive of them,” Council Member Lancman said, “but we really need a larger, more macro strategy for dealing with this extraordinary number of arrest warrants.”&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/GothamGazette" target="_blank">@GothamGazette</a></p>