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Corruption commission co-chair slams Legislature, says Cuomo was partner in successful effort
ALBANY _ The co-chairman of the now disbanded Moreland Commission on corruption chided lawmakers Monday for refusing to voluntarily disclose “what it is they do to earn lucrative outside income.”
That was “not an unreasonable request of a person purportedly entrusted with serving the public good,” said William Fitzpatrick, the Onondaga County district attorney and co-chairman appointed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Lawmakers had opposed the commissions subpoenas arguing they violated the protection of separate powers of government.
Fitzpatrick’s unexpected parting shots were in an opinion piece released Monday. It came after Cuomo was criticized by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for agreeing to disband the commission in a political deal for other reforms. Good-government groups have also criticized the commission for accomplishing little before Cuomo disbanded it March 31 in the deal with legislative leaders who had fought the commission and challenged its legal authority.
“If you begin investigations and you begin them with great fanfare," Bharara said last week, "you don't, I think, unceremoniously take them off the table without causing questions to be asked."
Fitzpatrick, a Republican, spent most of the 1,600-word essay in the Huffington Post defending Cuomo and the work of the commission created by Cuomo a year ago.
Fitzpatrick also acknowledged that the commission Cuomo announced would be an independent watchdog worked closely with Cuomo and negotiated directly with the Legislature on proposed new corruption laws.
“The law required that we report to the governor's office and the Attorney General's Office on a weekly basis and discuss our activities,” Fitzpatrick said. “While both District Attorney (Kathleen) Rice and I each had our own independent authority to issue subpoenas as district attorneys, in this situation we were not operating under our own legal authority but rather under the governor's.”
Fitpatrick and Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, had to agree on the issuance of subpoenas and the governor and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman “valued our collective experience.”
Fitzpatrick also said the 25-member commission was too large and the press leaks were too frequent and often wrong.
“We asked each other for trust, and some members, for whatever reason, violated that trust,” Fitzpatrick said.
He emphasized, however, that the commission and Cuomo were successful in forcing the Legislature to accept some of the reforms they rejected a year ago. Among them are tougher government corruption measures and creation of an investigator in the Board of Elections to break ties on the notoriously gridlocked board split by Democrats and Republicans.
“`The paper tiger’ days of the Board of Elections are over and we can begin to rebuild public trust,” he said.
He said the commission’s investigations have all been turned over to Bharara and other prosecutors.