Law School Deans Unveil New York Ethics System

ALBANY — The deans of New York City’s 15 accredited law schools announced a rigorous screening process Wednesday to select candidates for the state’s new 11-member Ethics and Lobbying Commission in the government, which was created this year to overhaul the existing state ethics committee that has for years been criticized for the apparent allegiance of some of its members to the lawmakers who appointed them.

Law school deans have been enlisted by state lawmakers to create the rules for nominating candidates for the new commission set to take shape next month as the much-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics – which has was formed in 2011 – will be disbanded on July 8 under the Ethics Commission Reform Act signed into law this year by Governor Kathy Hochul.

Unlike JCOPE, whose commissioners were typically appointed by New York’s top legislators with little scrutiny — including a thorough review of their independence and impartiality — the new rules will allow a nominating committee of faculty deans right to reject someone who has not been “unchallenged”. honesty, integrity and character.”

The process outlined by law school leaders includes a thorough background check on applicants – similar to that conducted by the state police for senior executive appointees – to ensure that their “personal conduct and professional background reflects adherence to the highest ethical standards, and that their lived experience enables them to understand the range of perspectives necessary to serve effectively as a member of an ethics commission that exercises broad oversight over a public workforce large and diverse.

The check also aims to ensure that candidates have demonstrated their ability to be impartial and independent, fair and can “decide matters solely on the basis of the law and the facts presented”.

Background checks, which will be facilitated by the state Office of General Services, will include fingerprinting, detailed questionnaires and financial disclosures as well as reviews of tax and credit reports. Applicants will be required to sign releases allowing the nominating committee to review these documents.

The law requires the governor to appoint three people to the new commission, with the remaining appointments being: Senate President and Majority Leader (two); Senate Minority Leader (one); President of the Assembly (two); Minority Leader in Assembly (one); state controller (one); and State Attorney General (one).

Anthony W. Crowell, dean of New York Law School and chair of the independent review panel that crafted the new regulations, said in a statement, “As guardians of a profession built on ethical standards and highest professional standards, we take our role in determining whether a candidate nominated by an elected official should be appointed as an ethics commissioner seriously. We will conduct our work with the independence, transparency and objectivity that New Yorkers demand. and deserve.

The nomination process will include a seven-day public comment period for nominees nominated by elected officials. The official appointing the person will review the background information gathered about the candidate’s qualifications, suitability and aptitude for the position before deciding whether to formally nominate the person for consideration by the Independent Review Committee.

The ethics commission reform law was negotiated by lawmakers behind closed doors as part of the state budget deal in early April. Law school deans were not part of this process. Good government groups at the time criticized that the commissioners of the new panel – as with the JCOPE – would be directly appointed by senior politicians and could therefore be seen as lacking independence.

But the leaders of some of these groups have apparently embraced the new vetting system that allows the nominating committee to reject candidates deemed unsuitable for appointment to the commission.

“It’s a breath of fresh air. How much of a difference it makes, of course, time will tell,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Horner said the law creating the new ethics committee is “relatively vague” about why the nomination can reject candidates, but he said the process described by law school deans seems be a “good faith effort to offer a serious and professional” to find independent and qualified commissioners.

“It’s not independent enough, but given the circumstances, it’s better than anything that has certainly existed in the past,” added Horner.

Jon J. Epps