Monday, May 7, 2012

Lessons For JCOPE in the Kindlon Matter

I’m thinking that this Kindlon mess might be a teaching moment for JCOPE. Yeah, it’s a minor local controversy, but it does raise broader issues.

Let me start with the reason I first took note of the matter. It was when Lee Kindlon claimed he was being “swiftboated” by a county review of the time he spent working for the public defenders’ office. As I wrote in previous posts, I think Kindlon was wrong to claim this review was some kind of political dirty trick. It wasn’t his opponent conducting the review, but his former employer.

On this point I am unwavering, and this is a lesson for JCOPE: Never allow someone to politicize an ethics probe. Nip it in the bud or the whole atmosphere gets poisoned.

Now in order to nip it in the bud, you have to make sure that the ethics prober himself or herself really isn’t being political. And on this score let me say something definitive. I don’t give a damn about either man in the race. This isn’t to say either man is good or bad. It’s just to say that I set aside personal considerations when analyzing a matter. To me, this is the essence of being fair.

This is an important lesson for JCOPE: Forget who you are probing. Whether it’s the governor or the janitor treat them the same. (The Meter Maid approach) PIC never got this. Teitelbaum, Feerick, Ginsberg and Cherkasy had all kinds of side relationships with people touched by their probes – people in power – and it affected their judgment and actions.

The next important lesson for JCOPE is not to pretend that you are infallible. In a previous post, I was quick to amend what I had written when a key question was raised. I wasn’t embarrassed by that. Hell, I did it all the time when I was running the Lobbying Commission. Whenever a legitimate question is raised or when new information becomes available, you respond accordingly. PIC would never do that. They would ignore information that conflicted with their intended outcome.

Now a quick digression to focus on the facts in the Kindlon matter. In a previous post, I responded to a statement by the Kindlon camp  that Mr. Kindlon’s position as an alternate defender was a part time job. After hearing from multiple sources (whom I’m sure are Soares supporters) that it was a full time job I decided to research the matter myself.  It took 5 minutes. Contained at page 89 of the Albany County Budget (available online) is the following description  In 2009, the Division of the Alternate Public Defender completed a transition plan in which all attorney positions were converted from part-time to full-time County employees.” 

So, strictly speaking, the Kindlon supporters are wrong in their pushback against me. But -- practicing what I preach about fairness -- I’m inclined to cut them some slack based upon a re-evaluation of the overall situation.

Here’s what I think was going on: Kindlon was hired as a part time employee. Kindlon was juggling this job and another. This isn’t unusual for young attorneys who are trying to establish themselves. I assume that he tried to do right by both sets of clients. In this regard, he does not strike me as the kind of person who would be dishonest. In 2009 the job title was changed from part time to full time and Mr. Kindlon continued to work in the same manner he did prior to the change.

I assume that the county will tell us soon that while his time sheets may contain a few inaccuracies, he wasn’t bilking the system. And if this is the case, I don’t think there is a big ethical problem for him.

That said, the defense of his actions, was deceptive.

Here again, I find myself criticizing him, and cutting him some slack. I think he’s probably a very decent person, but I don’t think he’s ready for the political game, not yet. I actually told this to the Kindlon supporter who called me. (It was a nice conversation. The individual that called is colorful, intense and opinionated. I have some of those same failings myself, and I found myself really liking the man.  Although I am sure after this blog they will think me unfair unless they take a hard look at themselves.)

Now back to JCOPE: I still think that part-time lawyering and consulting gigs by government entities ought to be reviewed by JCOPE. The recent news about lawyers who work 20 or 30 hours in the state legislature for large salaries may be the tip of the iceberg. The Daily News did some good reporting on this last week and somebody at JCOPE could use it to start a review.  And remember integrity starts in your own office.

No comments:

Post a Comment