New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and his staff have retained legal counsel for at least three federal and state investigations into alleged misdoings. The question now is how they’re going to pay for it.
At issue is a state finance law that requires contracts by the third-term Democrat or his staff worth more than $50,000 to first be approved by the state’s comptroller, who serves as New York’s chief financial officer. The comptroller’s office says Cuomo hasn’t submitted any requests to authorize contracts with the multiple law firms the governor and his staff have retained over the last few months.
Without authorization, it’s unclear whether the Cuomo administration’s mounting legal bills will be paid for by taxpayers, campaign funds, personally by Cuomo — or a mix of the three.
Cuomo’s office, which could be at risk of violating state finance rules if it doesn’t seek contract approval, said it’s still in the process of finalizing the contracts.
The administration faces an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its alleged role in covering up the number of Covid-19 deaths of nursing home residents. New York Attorney General Letitia James is also investigating allegations of sexual harassment against Cuomo by at least eight women, as well as claims the governor used state resources to write a leadership book on the pandemic. Separately, the New York State Assembly is also conducting an impeachment inquiry on the governor’s alleged misconduct. Cuomo, who is up for re-election in 2022, has denied all claims. There’s no set time line for any of the probes.
State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office said it has yet to receive for approval any of the contracts for legal services. A contract worth more than $50,000 cannot be executed or put into effect until it’s first authorized by the comptroller, according to section 112 of the State Finance Law. Without the comptroller’s approval, the law firms could be at risk of not getting paid.
“We do not have any contracts in house for legal services for the attorneys representing the governor and his aides in the investigations,” said comptroller spokesman Matt Ryan. “We do not have a time line from the Executive for when they plan to send us contracts.”
Footing the Bill
Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi told the Albany Times Union in April that the governor and his administration hadn’t paid the law firms any money yet. The firms include Arnold & Porter, Walden Macht & Haran LLP, Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC, and Glavin PLLC.
This week, Azzopardi said the administration is still in the process of finalizing the contracts and related documents to send to the comptroller, but declined to give an estimate on when the documentation would be ready. He did not respond when asked whether the governor will personally pay any legal fees.
“We are abiding by all applicable rules and standards and in matters like this it is not uncommon for legal representation to begin while the contracts are simultaneously being drafted for submission,” Azzopardi said. “Doing it the other way could potentially leave the Chamber and its employees without representation.”
This isn’t the first time Cuomo and DiNapoli have sparred over the legal costs related to misconduct allegations. In 2016, the same situation played out when the governor’s Executive Chamber hired private investigator Bart Schwartz during a probe into a pay-to-play scandal by former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Cuomo hadn’t first sought the comptroller’s approval.
Officials in New York typically must pay for their own legal representation and under state law would only be reimbursed for the costs if they are found not guilty or an investigation is closed without charges being filed. The attorney general and comptroller would first have to approve the reimbursement, which could come from taxpayer funds. In the interim, officials are permitted to use campaign funds to front the costs. Cuomo’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
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