Hindsight is 20/20
I just received a phone call from New York Post reporter Carl Campanile. He was asking a lot of questions about JJOKE and about one employee in particular, Latitia Tagliafierro. He wanted to know if she was qualified to be the top investigator at JJOKE.
Now I don’t know Ms. Tagliafierro and I told Carl that. But I do know that JJOKE has accomplished little or nothing of substance during its first year and I said that as well. I went further and stated that the top employees at JJOKE cannot be measured on substance because they all are Biben minions who have shown no independent skills to this point (other than Monica Stamm’s ability to whisper in Ellen’s ear and Rob Cohen’s talent for walking into closets and hitting the mute button during executive sessions – time to fess up Rob).
Carl then stated that JJOKE (he said JCOPE but I know JJOKE commissioner’s use the term JJOKE so I think its official) has only had a year to prove itself and they might need more time. I disagreed and said six months of getting up to speed would have been enough for Biben to prove herself. And a warning buzzer went off in my head. I remember blogging about Biben when she was first appointed. When I was trying my best to give her the benefit of the doubt. I remember writing about her time at the IG and that you can’t measure an investigator until investigations have had time to ripen into cases.
So back to the archives I went and found the piece from February 2, 2012. And being someone who can admit his mistakes I thought let me review the piece from the benefit of hindsight. So here you go with commentary in italics:
JCOPE’s New Leadership
I am shocked, not about Ellen Biben’s appointment, that’s a pleasant surprise.
Pleasant like a root canal, proof that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
I am shocked that none of the media folks that contacted me today for comment used any of the things I had to say about the appointment.
My ego knows no bounds
So to the extent I can be my own media outlet here is what I think.
Is Ellen Biben a first-rate attorney? Yes, there’s no question about that.
Still can’t argue that point she is a smart lawyer it’s just not the only skill set you need for this job
Can Ellen Biben do the job at JCOPE? Absolutely, she’s proven herself a capable administrator.
How wrong I was about that
Will Ellen Biben be independent? I’d bank on it.
Even more wrong about that fact but that’s on Biben not me
Will she understand the proper role of the state’s top ethics enforcer? I hope so, but I don’t know for sure and only time will tell about this point.
Time has told the story Biben is more Teitelbaum than Hormozi
Let’s drill down on those last two matters:
Will she be independent? This is the concern of some pundits. They think that because she’s a former Cuomo staffer, she must be in the tank. I disagree. Ms. Biben was a career prosecutor who had a life before her association with Andrew Cuomo. She established a rock solid reputation for herself. Is she going to throw that away now and become a hack? No, that’s not going to happen.
(Remember that I was a Joe Bruno appointee. I had great affection for him, but I wasn’t going to let him or anyone else tell me how to do my job. This is the only attitude to have.)
Will Ms. Biben understand the proper role of being E.D. at JCOPE? I’ll break this down into two broad areas:
First, will she be both aggressive and fair? I think she’s proven to be both as IG. Some people may say that there haven’t been a lot of cases advanced by her office, but those who say that don’t understand the lag time between investigation and resolution. Any new IG (or AG) spends his or her first year putting the office in order and launching investigations. Results come later on. In this regard, all the reports I have read indicate that she has done a good job and has earned the respect of her staff. (This alone will set her apart from the Teitelbaums, Cherkaskys, Feericks and Ginsbergs of the world.)
The pundits were right the more I look into it Biben is good at acting like she started working on things but she isn’t much of a finisher. This one is all me I should have done more homework and relied less on the opinion of others. But I have to admit when I first met Biben I was a believer.
Second, does she get the intangible ‘it?” Does she know what JCOPE really is and what it isn’t? I really have my doubts that Janet DiFiore gets it. Yes, Ms. DiFiore is a tough prosecutor, but she thinks she’s running a DA’s office when in Albany.
My fear about the Biben selection is only that as a former prosecutor Ms. Biben will have the same bent as Ms DiFiore. But only time will tell.
Time has told the story take away the quarters in the meter and nanny gate and Biben and DiFiore could be sisters, or mother and daughter.
The fact is JCOPE is a state agency with civil, not criminal authority. Yes, it has investigatory powers. It can hold adjudicatory hearings. And it can fine people. But if it finds something more serious than a violation of public officers’ law, it must refer the matter to other authorities.
The most important function of JCOPE may be to educate people on what they should and shouldn’t be doing in Albany.
Will these two professional prosecutors get that? Or will JCOPE be a Star Chamber, an investigatory body that is not bound by standard evidentiary rules or by direct judicial branch oversight and is free to make arbitrary calls on cases.
My great hope is the Ms. Biben will understand this critical distinction. I believe she will, and that is why I’m willing to give her a chance.
Chance is over Biben and her staff should resign and JJOKE should start over.