February 24, 2024

Not even New York state’s top lawyer — Attorney General Letitia James — can get her nominee past law school deans reviewing appointments to a new ethics watchdog.

The Independent Review Committee for the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government nixed James’ selection of Emily Jane Goodman, a judge for 30 years in state criminal and civil courts, it was revealed Friday.

The deans also blocked Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s nomination of retired judge Robert Torres, a Bronx state Supreme Court justice for three decades, and state Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt’s pick of Gary Lavine, a lawyer who previously served on the now-defunct Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

The review panel’s website notes that the three nominees were “not confirmed” and that a “majority consensus” had not been reached in the cases of Goodman and Torres.

The 15-member panel of law school deans has approved appointments to seven of 11 spots on the new ethics committee, including two names put forth by Gov. Kathy Hochul, two by state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​(D-Yonkers), and three others backed by Assembly Minority Leader William Barclay (R-Oswego), state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Heastie.

A photo of NY Attorney General Letitia James.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James was nominated Judge Emily Jane Goodman for a new ethics watchdog.

Hochul has yet to propose anyone for the 11th and final seat.

The review panel was created by the law inaugurating the new ethics commission earlier this year in order to distance Albany leaders from the selection process. The JCOPE was often accused of being too beholden to its appointing authorities, especially disgraced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

James and Heastie had no immediate comment about the stunning rejection of their picks, which under the law cannot be appealed or overturned

But Ortt vowed to sue to get Lavine — a critic of the JCOPE’s initial approval of Cuomo’s $5 million COVID-19 memoir — reinstated to the new commission.

A photo of Judge Emily Jane Goodman.
Emily Jane Goodman has been a judge for 30 years in state criminal and civil courts.
Steven Hirsch

“As I said when I first appointed him, Gary Lavine is a true fighter for ethical accountability in state government. When he served on JCOPE, Commissioner Lavine was a consistent and outspoken force against scandal and Albany’s corrupt status quo, which makes him even more of an asset to serve on the new Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government,” Ortt said in a statement.

“The New York State Independent Review Committee’s decision to vote against Mr. Lavine’s appointment is another example of how ethics enforcement is broken in Albany. Legislative appointments are the right of independently elected officials. This decision will be challenged in the courts, and I am confident that that challenge will succeed.”

In a Sept. 1 letter to Ortt’s office, Anthony Crowell, the New York Law School dean who chairs the independent review panel, laid out “noteworthy concerns” to justify the rejection of Lavine.

“Chief among them is a clear belief, informed by Mr. Lavine’s answers to the IRC’s questionnaire and interview questions, that his specific prior ethics commission experience has negatively shaped his expectations regarding the new Commission, and his potential role on it,” Crowell said.

Crowell added that Lavine had “given the appearance of an inability to act impartially, fairly, and even-handedly” on the new commission.

When reached by The Post, Lavine scoffed at Crowell’s explanation and accused the law school deans of “trying to stifle dissent” on the new commission by pushing the view that it should speak in “one voice.”

A photo of Carl Heastie's speaker assembly.
The law school deans also blocked Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s nomination for the new ethics watchdog.
LightRocket via Getty Images

Like Ortt, Lavine claimed to have a panel of unelected law school deans confirming or blocking appointments to a public office “violates the state Constitution.”

Crowell, the chairman of the screening panel, defended its decision to reject the three nominees.

“The IRC members worked extremely hard to develop procedures to guide a thorough review of all candidates,” he said in a statement Friday. “Our pre-nomination process was rigorous, and so were our efforts to draw out of the candidates their clear understanding of the Commission’s weighty mandate, and how their experience and perspectives will ensure the independent and impartial enforcement of the State’s complex and nuanced ethics laws .

“We will be watching closely.”

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