Gov. Kathy Hochul has nominated James Caras, a former New York...

Gov. Kathy Hochul has nominated James Caras, a former New York City government attorney, to serve on the state ethics board. Credit: TNS/Susan Watts/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul/TNS

ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday nominated an attorney who spent 31 years working for New York City government to join the state Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government.

If confirmed by a special panel of law school deans, James Caras, of Manhattan, will serve a six-year term on the 11-member commission appointed by the governor and legislative leaders of both major parties. Commissioners aren’t salaried, but are paid $127 an hour for attending meetings.

Hochul’s nomination comes as the commission, an ethics and lobbying regulator, is fighting in court for its existence.

In September, a state court ruled the commission created in 2022 was unconstitutional. The commission rules on ethics in the legislative and executive branches, but the court said that violates the state Constitution’s separation of powers of government.

The ruling came in the case brought by former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo against the commission. The ethics commission required Cuomo to pay millions of dollars in royalties to the state for a book he wrote while governor on his leadership during the pandemic.

The commission had said Cuomo didn’t receive the necessary ethics approval before writing the book and then didn’t abide by requirements that he not use state employees or state resources to help write or edit it.

Cuomo contends he had received approval from the forerunner to the current ethics agency and that his executive chamber staffers volunteered.

The commission is appealing the decision. It is scheduled to present its written argument to the Appellate Division in August and Cuomo’s response is due in September.

Meanwhile, the court has allowed the commission to operate while awaiting a final ruling.

“The state’s ethics and lobbying laws remain fully in effect and unimpaired,” stated Chairman Frederick Davie and Executive Director Sanford Berland in a joint statement.

Cuomo’s lawsuit argues the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government has no authority to tell him to return $5 million in payments for his 2020 book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Hochul and the State Legislature created COELIG after they decided its forerunner, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, hadn’t been independent of Cuomo, who appointed many of its members.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi on Wednesday called Hochul’s nomination of Caras for a “broken ethics panel” a “preholiday garbage dump” scheduled so few New Yorkers would be reminded of the court battle.

Caras has a long background in Democratic politics, but also served during the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when Bloomberg was an independent. Caras was roundly praised when he left city government last year.

“For over three decades, Jim has exemplified what it means to be a true public servant,” said council Speaker Adrienne Adams, according to a transcript of the Sept. 29, 2023, council meeting.

Council Member Gail Brewer said Caras spent a career “making sure that lobbyists did the right thing” and was an expert in the state Constitution.

Caras identified himself as James William Caras in a national law directory and the state Board of Elections lists small donations by James W. Caras, of Manhattan, to Democrats totaling $600 since 2000. They include $225 to Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg since 2019 and $25 to Sen. Liz Krueger in 2000, now the Senate Finance Committee chairwoman.

Hochul spokesman Avi Small wouldn’t confirm Caras made those contributions.

“Governor Hochul selected Mr. Caras after a comprehensive review of his qualifications and background,” Small said in a written statement to Newsday.

Caras' nomination must be approved by the Independent Review Committee of 15 law school deans, as required by law. 

“We think an independent assessment of COELIG appointees vastly increases the transparency and accountability of the process and the quality of the candidates,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the good-government group Reinvent Albany.

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