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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Eye of newt, anyone?

Late last week, the New York State Attorney General’s office launched a 12-hour raid on State Police headquarters in Albany as part of its ongoing investigation into former governor Spitzer’s alleged use of the state police to spy on Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the New York Post reported.

Even more troubling, the Post reports, the AG also sent the State Police a letter informing them that Glenn Valle, its longtime chief counsel, could not represent troopers implicated by the investigation.

Typically, prosecutors take this position when an attorney is either personally involved in the activities under investigation or has a conflict of interest. All we know is that during contentious hearings held last year before the state Senate Investigations Committee, Valle defended State Police for following Spitzer’s directives. Now state Republican lawmakers are calling for his resignation.

The problem is, there’s no referee. There’s no judge to ask for a decision. Where does the AG get off with unilaterally disqualifying an attorney? In any contested case in which a prosecutor wants to disqualify an attorney, there is a hearing with evidence and proof. The U.S. Attorney or DA does not write to the client and say, “Hey, buddy, gotta get a new lawyer.” They go to a judge and follow proper procedure.

Responding to the Post’s previous story about Governor Paterson’s request for the investigation, State Attorney General Cuomo issued a statement in which he pointed out that “combining politics and police work is a toxic brew.” By disqualifying an attorney without a hearing, the AG is only throwing more poisoned entrails into the cauldron. Let’s hope that the addition of local white-collar stalwarts Robert Fiske and Michael Armstrong as advisers in this inquiry, announced today, improves the AG's judgment.

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