Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Insider Account: JCOPE cautioned to watch where they take that first step

I got a tip from an insider: Jacob Gershman is preparing to write a story that JCOPE has begun the initial follow up on a complaint filed about the matter involving Sen. Libous and his son.

Now remember the rules here: I provide a forum for an insider to make a statement. I don’t vouch for the veracity of the statement, nor do I comment on underlying facts about which I know only what I read in newspapers. My only editorial comment is to say: “Hmm. If this is true, it raises some interesting questions.”

Back to the insider: Supposedly, Gershman is asking around town to confirm that someone has filed a complaint about Libous’s activity with JCOPE.   The complaint urges JCOPE to investigate an alleged ethical breach. The insider says JCOPE, eager to establish itself, might actually be following through.

Here’s the “Hmm” part:

First, what is there to go on here? Apparently, it’s the word of fellow who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy, bribery, tax evasion and perjury. This fellow is currently a witness in a corruption case in Westchester. The allegations against Libous come from his testimony in the ongoing case. This is an interesting source, for sure. At first, blush -- totally unreliable. At the same time, the Feds have put him on the stand. JCOPE might want to see how that trial turns out before going too far. If the jury doesn’t find this fellow credible, they probably shouldn’t either.

Second, what’s the overarching issue? Well, it involves helping someone get a job. In this case, Libous allegedly helped his son, an attorney; get a job with a Westchester law firm. On the one hand, I’m like everyone else in resenting favoritism, nepotism and any other –ism that might apply. But on the other hand, as one who has tried to help young people get jobs and has been helped himself, I’m a little leery of having JCOPE weigh in with a set of dos and don’ts on being a mensch.

Lastly, what’s the jurisdictional hook? Maybe this conduct speaks to Section 74 of the Public Officers Law, which says no “unwarranted privileges” for yourself or others. There’s a problem, though: The newly formed JCOPE doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate conduct by lawmakers before it was formed. This incident apparently occurred five years ago.

The insider insists that this is being considered seriously by JCOPE, but I have mixed thoughts. If there was a quid pro quo, Libous is in the wrong. But if it didn’t go down as claimed by this questionable witness, Libous has been maligned.

My biggest concern is for JCOPE itself. I’d hate to see the new agency invest time and energy on the issue only to come up with a sketchy fact pattern and an overreaching decision that turns them into the nepotism police. (How many people in this town got their job because someone made a call on their behalf?).

But more importantly I wonder why the staff at JCOPE hasn’t immediately seen the jurisdictional issue.  JCOPE is going to have enough problems trying to investigate legislators why would you want to start with a case you have no jurisdiction over?

I know I’ve pledged to give JCOPE and its leadership the benefit of the doubt for a while. It’s just that they really, really need to be careful in picking their first big case.

Now that the snow has melted those of us with dogs know you have to be careful where you tred.  Until you clean the yard of a winter of canine abuse you need to watch that first step.

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