ALBANY — A judge has ruled that a contentious law giving a state panel wide powers to probe prosecutorial misconduct in New York is unconstitutional.
The decision is a major win for district attorneys who have been fighting the creation of the commission since Gov. Cuomo signed the law back in 2018.
Prosecutors argued the measure violates the separation of powers clause in the state Constitution because most of the members of its 11-person panel would be appointed by the Legislature — which is prohibited from overseeing prosecutors.
Justice David Weinstein agreed, writing in a 63-page decision released Tuesday that the law creating the commission was “inconsistent with the provisions of the New York State Constitution.”
The commission would have been the first of its kind in the country and was expected to have had broad oversight of the state’s 62 county district attorneys — including prosecutors across the five boroughs. It would have had the power to recommend anything from censure to removal of prosecutors it determined acted wrongly.
Prosecutor argued that the panel was given far too much power, would have interfered with the “independence and core functions” of elected district attorneys and that the law improperly created a commission with administrative and executive duties that operates outside the clear confines of the state Constitution.
“I am pleased that the hardworking public servants in District Attorneys’ offices throughout the state will be able to do their jobs without the constant threat of unconstitutional oversight,” said Jim Walden, of the law firm Walden Macht & Haran, who represented the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York in the case.
Cuomo admitted that there were issues with the original measure and amendments were made that were meant to address address the constitutional concerns raised by prosecutors. The governor signed the revamped legislation into law last March, but he admitted the measure was “vulnerable” to a legal challenge.
The decision is a blow to supporters who have long fought for more independent oversight over the state’s independently elected prosecutors.
“We are immensely disappointed with the court’s decision.,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Prosecutorial misconduct is a reality that our clients and our attorneys confront on a regular basis. People have languished in prison for years, their lives ruined because of the misconduct of prosecutors who abuse their power with impunity.”
Published at Wed, 29 Jan 2020 09:02:29 +0000