New York State Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger on Wednesday announced the formation of a new Task Force on Government Ethics.
The panel, comprising independent experts drawn from diverse backgrounds, including government ethics experts, current and former prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers, academics and local government practitioners, will undertake a review of public sector ethics issues that affect the legal profession.
“New York’s citizens have lost confidence in the integrity of their government institutions,” Younger said in a statement. “All too often, the public believes that their government officials are corrupt. We need comprehensive ethics proposals to restore New Yorkers’ confidence in government.”
He said a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision makes it less likely government officials can be prosecuted under the theft of honest services law, and that it’s “particularly important that we review the entire area of government ethics and the statutes that allow for enforcement.”
Patricia E. Salkin, associate dean and director of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, and Michael J. Garcia, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, will serve as co-chairmen of the task force. Its subcommittees will focus on several issues, such as whether New York should adopt a statewide anti-corruption law and, if so, what components should be included.
Multiple enforcement agencies interpret and enforce the state’s ethics laws. The task force will recommend the regulatory or law enforcement agency best equipped to monitor government ethics.
Multiple agencies with different statutory mandates and jurisdictions initiate simultaneous investigations, and the potential exists for due process violations and uncertain applicability of procedural and substantive standards. The task force will study those issues and make recommendations to ensure appropriate protections are afforded to those under investigation.
Younger said New York lacks a single, statewide entity charged with coordination, oversight and enforcement of local government ethics. Recognizing the diversity in size and geography of the state’s municipal governments, the task force will study options to ensure all public officials and local appointees are presented clearly articulated sets of rules that cover the many ethics issues they confront on a routine basis.
“Each new scandal and investigation involving a public official chips further away at public confidence in our government,” Younger said. “Unfortunately, in this climate, thousands of ethical and hardworking public servants are often painted with an overly broad, negative brush. As this issue plays out across our state and nation, we risk scaring the next generation of government leaders away from public service.”
“This task force will examine these issues in an independent, reasoned manner. Our recipe for ethics reform must include an emphasis on transparency, tempered by common sense,” Younger said.