Cuomo Sues Ethics Panel to Block It From Seizing Book Profits

Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sued New York’s ethics commission on Friday, contending that its efforts to force him to turn over the proceeds of a $5.1 million book deal were a violation of his constitutional rights.

The dispute centers on the commission’s approval of Mr. Cuomo’s 2020 memoir — a decision it reversed last year over what it said were misrepresentations of, among other things, his use of state resources.

When the panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, ordered Mr. Cuomo to turn over the book’s proceeds, the state attorney general’s office balked at enforcing the directive, saying the commission needed to conduct an investigation before seeking to recoup the money.

In the lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Albany, Mr. Cuomo is trying to block such an investigation, arguing that the commission’s previous actions and what the suit characterizes as prejudicial comments demonstrated that he had already decided on his guilt.

“Never in the history of New York has an agency so breathtaking and irresponsibly prejudged a matter on which it is the final decision maker,” Mr. Cuomo’s court filings say.

A spokesman for the ethics commission declined to comment.

The suit is the latest example of the visible and aggressive stance that Mr. Cuomo, who resigned as governor in August, has adopted since his return to public life in recent months.

Mr. Cuomo’s resignation came after a report by the attorney general, Letitia James, found he had sexually harassed multiple women, including some who worked for him. Mr. Cuomo has denied any harassment.

After several months in seclusion, Mr. Cuomo has re-emerged lately. He has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads to promote his accomplishments as governor, spoken at two churches and started to shift from talking about his personal issues to broader political themes.

Where he once expressed contrition and said he had been “too familiar with people,” he now blames “cancel culture” for forcing his resignation.

The suit filed against the ethics commission fits that pattern, with Mr. Cuomo insisting he has done nothing wrong.

Mr. Cuomo has repeatedly said state resources were not used in preparing his book, “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic,” and that any staff members who worked on the project had done so on their own time. The commission has taken issue with that assertion.

A wide-ranging State Assembly inquiry into whether Mr. Cuomo abused his power has since found that Mr. Cuomo “utilized the time of multiple state employees, as well as his own, to further his personal gain during a global pandemic.”

After revoking its authorization of the book deal, saying Mr. Cuomo had gotten it under false pretenses, the commission went a step farther.

“In the absence of JCOPE’s approval of his outside activity in connection with the book, Governor Cuomo is not legally entitled to retain compensation paid to him,” the panel said in a December resolution in which it ordered him to repay the book proceeds, which were reported to total $5.1 million.

But after the attorney general’s office refused to enforce the order, the commission proceeded with the statutory process for a formal hearing, which is what Mr. Cuomo’s team now seeks to quash.

Lawyers for Mr. Cuomo argue that the commission has prejudged him, saying that its previous statements — including in a hearing notice that said the evidence against the former governor was “overwhelming,” “incontrovertible” and “beyond dispute” — had rendered the panel incapable of being impartial on whether he had violated the law.

For years, the ethics commission has been maligned by government watchdog groups for its perceived vulnerability to political influence. Out of power and at odds with the commission, Mr. Cuomo has taken up that charge.

The suit comes amid signs that the commission’s future is shaky. State government leaders have signaled that they expect to create a replacement body as a part of this year’s state budget, although the final form of the new entity has yet to fall into place.

Gov. Kathy Hochul had proposed a new way of forming such a panel that would give law school deans, rather than lawmakers, final say on appointments. An alternate plan has since taken shape among lawmakers. It would keep appointment power with them, but it has been sharply criticized by watchdog groups.

“New Yorkers deserve a truly independent commission, not simply substituting one flawed political entity for another,” a coalition of such groups said in a statement on Wednesday.

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