Intrigue over 'special' WFP probe plays out before top court

Judge Eugene Piggott questioned the secrecy of the Judge Eugene Piggott questioned the secrecy of the WFP probe. Photo Credit: NYS Office of Court Administration

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One of the more ear-perking moments in Tuesday’s state Court of Appeals arguments over designation in 2012 of a special prosecutor, purportedly to probe the Working Families Party, came when Judge Eugene Piggott asked why facts behind the assignment needed to be kept secret.

“I mean this is the United States of America, for goodness sake, it’s not the FISA court,” Piggott said, “and we have a case apparently of a political party, that’s alleged to have done stuff.  If this district attorney for one reason or other… says I don’t want to get involved … at least the cards ought to be face up.”

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Audio of the full proceeding is here.

The district attorney is Dan Donovan from Staten Island, represented at Tuesday's arguments by colleague Morrie Kleinbart. Donovan got the case assigned to lawyer Roger Adler by New York City’s chief administrative judge  Fern Fisher.  Judging from previous media accounts, the terrain seems to overlap with a 2009 City Council campaign finance controversy reviewed before by the U.S.attorney’s office and was the subject of a civil court settlement. Nobody’s been criminally charged.

Unsurprisingly, the WFP is challenging the Adler assignment and the secrecy surrounding how it came to be. At the same time, however, Judge Robert Smith challenged the party’s lawyer Avi Schick -- over why his side hasn’t moved to unseal the application to Fisher for the assignment. In a wider sense, the case involves the sensitivity of publicly releasing information about the probe.

 Speaking of which, the Wall Street Journal this week published a story that led this way:

A special prosecutor investigating the Working Families Party has sought an interview with one of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s highest-ranking aides, Emma Wolfe, people familiar with the matter said.

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Since 2012, the prosecutor, Roger Bennett Adler, has been investigating the Working Families Party’s relationship with Data & Field Services, a corporation formed by the left-leaning party to provide its candidates with get-out-the-vote staffing and expertise. Investigators are looking at whether the for-profit firm charged significantly lower fees than is typical for such service, potentially providing an unfair advantage to favored candidates.

Wolfe, of course, was involved with the party before joining the administration as a de Blasio adviser.  Adler hasn’t commented in public. The story, quoting unnamed sources, helps stir the intrigue over the proceedings. Stay tuned; it's a long show.

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