Cuomo, Sex Abuse And The History of the NY AG Office

Sometimes a sea change occurs and no one notices. Actually, a lot of times. Especially in politics and the legal profession. Especially in the last few decades. Especially in the United States of America, and even within that, especially in New York State.

In our youth as a lawyer in New York we had the notion that the Attorney General was an office of high integrity and professional responsibility and the “lawyer’s lawyer” who, because he was elected independently from the governor, would stand up to political pressure and do the right thing. We thought, in particular, that if a lawyer had a problem with a prosecutor the Attorney General’s office was the go-to.

Was this naive?

The history of the office over the last half century or so is interesting. Currently, it seems the AG is the heir apparent to the governorship, a virtual governor in waiting. But this is not the tradition. See here. Starting with John Bennett in 1931 no New York AG went on to the governorship until Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo both did so in the first decade of this century. In between, Louis Lefkowitz was AG for 22 years and apparently never even thought about running for governor. Bob Abrams went almost four terms as AG, resigned, and never ran for governor. Although he thought about it. Apparently.

What do we make of this? We think it amounts to a trend towards increasing politicization of the AG’s office, especially within the last 20 years. And what does that mean? It means an office that bows to political pressure. Who can effectively bring political pressure?

Police unions.

And as we have noted many times, there is no countervailing political pressure. There is no lobby for criminal defendants.

What is the net result of this politicization, a politicization that tends in only one direction and which in the end favors institutional litigants and especially the government? Many things, we suppose. But from a professional perspective, it represents a profound loss, at least when measured against our earlier and apparently naive impression that the AG’s office was in part there to weigh in to check prosecutorial excesses like this.

The AG’s response to that, by the way, has been rote and reflexive opposition. Mindless, really.

Then of course there is this. Does the AG’s office care about sexual abuse? No. Not per se. Only when there is an apparently advantageous political angle.

So getting back to the latest kerfuffle over now governor Cuomo – who, like governor Spitzer before him, incubated in the NY AG’s office and now likewise finds himself fending off allegations of sexual misconduct* – we can confidently conclude that the current occupant of the office has a political agenda dressed up as a moral purpose, not an actual moral purpose.

And we can also confidently conclude that in Rochester if the AG had wanted – really, truly wanted – to get an indictment against one or more police officers involved in the now infamous Daniel Prude scandal, she would have been able to do so.

This is the inevitable loss of trust that ensues when political and career considerations supplant moral and professional obligations.

What is Letitia James’ agenda? Presumably the governor’s mansion. But we’ll see.


*Lest we overlook an important tidbit, we should also recall Eric Schneiderman.


Filed under epistemology, financial crisis, wrongful convictions

2 responses to “Cuomo, Sex Abuse And The History of the NY AG Office

  1. ItsBarrett

    The trials and tribulations of the politician with an overactive libido. When most are seeking pharmaceuticals retain their restless vigor, the office seems to be a holistic approach to youthful vitality. However, their form of “recreation” is making it difficult for others, especially in the workplace and other venues. What I find so interesting is how some are scrutinized and raked over the coals while others shrug it off, in one particular case landing the highest office in the land despite numerous accusations of impropriety, a court filing from an underage girl, and a proud admission as icing on the cake.

    The world we currently live in is quite bizarre and human behavior is interesting to say the least. For example, we have people parading for equality by demonstrating their differences, we have a movement to suppress all mentored of the past yet celebrate history over a month, we seek equality not necessarily by setting the bar higher as a group but instead dragging down the opposition. In all honesty, I am a firm believer that all men and women were created equal and deserve the protections of the law to ensure that right is maintained. How we choose to go about it is another story. Covering something up doesn’t erase the past and spending too much looking in the mirror can obscure one’s destination. Ultimately, all we can do is our best and hopefully learn to treat each other the way we would like to be treated, regardless of sex, orientation, or origination.


    • Well, this is a great comment!

      Yes, the seeming randomness. Why does Cuomo get the scrutiny all of a sudden, and why now? Over incidents all taking place years ago?

      One of the stories about him recently involved his habit of making phone calls featuring long and berating diatribes to people who had pissed him off for some reason. This was something his father regularly did also, but so far as I know that was never reported. We’ve also seen some recent incidents suggesting that brother Chris Cuomo of CNN also has a bit of a temper problem.

      Family trait, apparently.

      Beyond that, however, I would say that the bloom coming off the AG office rose during my professional life is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve encountered. The AG’s client is the State itself. Basically an abstraction, but a benevolent and useful one if properly conceived: like all civilized governments, the State’s only true “interest” is in justice and fairness. But this notion has been infected by the unselfconscious “careerism” of the government employees themselves:

      And it’s not just cops. Or even lawyers. Judges can be credibly accused of the same thing.


      Liked by 1 person

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