Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference to...

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a press conference to make an announcement on gun violence in Brooklyn on July 10, 2021. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

ALBANY — A state judge on Tuesday decided that former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo doesn’t have to pay back any of the proceeds of his $5.1 million book deal as ordered by the state’s former ethics board.

The former Joint Commission on Public Ethics had ordered Cuomo to pay back his royalties for writing his 2020 memoir on leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. JCOPE had said Cuomo didn’t receive the necessary approval before writing the book and then didn’t abide by requirements that he not use state employees or resources in writing and editing it.

The decision by Acting Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman in Albany states that the next step in an appeal or continued effort to claw back the money from Cuomo will be up to the new ethics commission — the Commission on Ethics in Lobbying and Government.

A spokesman for the new commission didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said JCOPE’s attempt to claw back the book process was “all about politics.”

“JCOPE — clearly in an attempt to settle petty political grievances — violated its own laws and procedures,” said Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

Cuomo had argued he secured approval to write the memoir from a JCOPE staffer. But the JCOPE board later rescinded that approval, saying such approval must come from the full board.

Cuomo had already been working on the memoir with some top staffers who said they volunteered their time. The book was about the high point in Cuomo’s three terms in office when he gained international attention for his handling of the pandemic and his fights with then-President Donald Trump. Cuomo resigned in August 2021 amid accusations of sexual harassment and mismanagement of the pandemic in nursing homes.

The judge ruled that when the staffer approved Cuomo’s request for the outside job, it was a violation of JCOPE's own rules. The judge said JCOPE then failed to provide Cuomo with due process when the board overruled the staff decision.

The judge cited several errors in JCOPE’s case. She ruled that JCOPE sought to sanction Cuomo for failing to comply with JCOPE’s rules, when the ethics board could only apply such sanctions for violations of state law.

The judge said the new Commission on Ethics in Lobbying and Government “shall review any pending inquiries or matters” left open by JCOPE.

The judge, however, noted there may not be much incentive to continue the fight now that Cuomo and commissioners of JCOPE are no longer in office.

“The crux of the complaint is the alleged bias of JCOPE’s former members, who no longer have seats in the now-defunct commission,” the judge stated. “Further litigation … would not appear to be a prudent use of the court’s or litigant’s resources.”

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