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Capitol Watch: Local prosecutors sue over misconduct panel

October 20, 2018

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, district attorneys are challenging a new law creating a commission on prosecutorial misconduct.

The law was passed earlier this year to give the public a new way of stopping prosecutors who abuse their power. But the District Attorneys’ Association of the State of New York says in a lawsuit that the law unfairly interferes with the independence of elected prosecutors.

In the governor’s race, independent candidate Stephanie Miner wants Republican Marc Molinaro to clarify his opinion of President Donald Trump. Molinaro has said he didn’t vote for the president and disagrees with some of his policies.

Here’s a look at stories making news:

PROSECUTORS SUE OVER MISCONDUCT PANEL: The legislation creates the nation’s first-of-its kind commission to investigate prosecutors who violate the standards of their office. The 11-member panel will be appointed by the governor, Legislature and New York’s chief judge.

The bill passed in June shortly before lawmakers wrapped up their 2018 session. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the bill into law in August. The Innocence Project applauded the governor, saying “too many innocent people have been wrongly convicted as a result of prosecutorial misconduct.”

Prosecutors had threatened to sue, calling it an unconstitutional change to the separation of powers. In its lawsuit, DAASNY argues the law violates the separation of powers by giving the governor, the Legislature and the chief judge too much oversight over the independent offices of district attorneys.

In an announcement of the lawsuit, the group noted that a review of the legislation by the state Attorney General’s office cited numerous flaws in the way the law was written.

“Despite being warned of numerous fundamental problems by DAASNY, the Legislature chose to pass a flagrantly unconstitutional statute. Sadly, the governor compounded that error by signing it into law,” said Albany County DA David Soares, DAASNY’s current president. “This law threatens the independence of district attorneys, alters the role of our judiciary and intrudes into law enforcement’s performance of its duties while simultaneously violating the due process rights of prosecutors.”

The lawsuit by the District Attorneys’ association is filed against Cuomo and the leaders of the Legislature. So far there’s no official response to the litigation.

MINER FRONT: The four challengers seeking to oust Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo have spent most of their campaigns going after the Democrat, which makes sense given that he’s far, far ahead in the polls and in fundraising.

Yet as the campaigns speed toward Nov. 6, one of them is taking aim at the candidate perceived to be in second place.

Former Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, running as an independent, called on Republican nominee Marc Molinaro to “clarify” his thoughts on several of Trump’s key accomplishments.

Molinaro has said he didn’t vote for Trump and has objected to some of the president’s policies and comments. But that hasn’t stopped his opponents from trying to tie the GOP nominee to his party’s leader in the White House.

Specifically, Miner said she wants Molinaro to say whether he backs the new tax code that caps a deduction for state and local taxes, whether he likes Trump’s Supreme Court nominees and what he thinks of Trump’s refusal — so far — to set aside federal funds for a new rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York.

“Molinaro has a moral responsibility to speak up for those vulnerable New Yorkers who are being victimized by the president’s rhetoric,” Miner says.

Miner, formerly a close Cuomo ally who had a significant falling-out with the incumbent, is taking a page from Cuomo’s playbook. The governor has made Trump his true opponent in the campaign, dismissing Molinaro as a “Trump Mini-me.”

Molinaro has not responded to Miner’s request.

SHARPE THINKING: The Libertarian candidate for governor, Larry Sharpe, is pitching a novel plan for paying to maintain or repair bridges, subway lines and other critical — but expensive — pieces of infrastructure: sell the naming rights.

Think “Apple Bridge” or “Google Tunnel” or subway stops named after Nike, Coca Cola or Disney. The idea is that companies would pay to slap their name on a public facility — though the cost would have to be steep to raise enough to deal with billions of dollars in maintenance needs.

Sharpe also wants to use existing rail and subways lines to run freight into New York City late at night when passenger service is limited.

“The MTA is a broken system,” he said. “Help me fix it.”

UPCOMING:

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was scheduled to debate Republican challenger Chele Farley Sunday at Skidmore College. But Gillibrand said Friday she was withdrawing from the debate because of a long-running labor dispute involving Charter Communications, the parent company of the cable TV stations set to air the debate. Gillibrand said she would be ready to debate with a different media partner if the dispute is not resolved by Sunday. Farley said Gillibrand had “chickened out” of debating.

The Assembly education committee holds a public hearing on school health, mental health and physical education Tuesday in Albany.

The Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation has scheduled a Nov. 16 hearing on recycling.

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