Legal fees, if uneven, mount in connection with Moreland Commission investigations

$1.4 million in publicly-declared legal fees have been incurred either in fighting subpoenas issued by the now-shuttered Moreland Commission or in connection with white collar criminal defense following the launch of a federal investigation into the panel's demise.

By LOUIS FLORES

Legal fees charged by the seven prominent law firms continue to rise as lawyers work on lingering aspects of the now-defunct Moreland Commission.

However, the fees are rising unevenly, and not all fees have been publicly disclosed.

The latest reports of legal fees for the seven, major law firms, and their roles in the Moreland Commission investigation, are : 

  • Harris Beach :  It is not know how much Harris Beach has spent in its opposition of a Moreland Commission subpoena for records pertaining to State Senator Michael Nozzolio (R-Seneca Falls), who is employed at the firm as Of Counsel.  A request for the value of the legal work being performed was made of Sen. Nozzolio, and that amount will be provided once Sen. Nozzolio answers the request.
  • Hinckley, Allen & Snyder LLP :  Approximately $300,000 in fees have been spent in providing legal representation to members of the now-defunct Moreland Commission in connection with the federal investigation being reportedly conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's southern district into allegations of obstruction of justice in the panel's corruption-fighting work.
  • Hiscock & Barclay :  It is not know how much Hiscock & Barclay has spent in its opposition of a Moreland Commission subpoena for records seen to pertain to each of State Senator Neil Breslin (D-Albany County), who is employed at the firm as Of Counsel, and Assembly Member William Barclay (R-Oswego County), who is a partner at the firm.  Requests for the value of the legal work were separately sent to Sen. Breslin and Assembly Member Barclay.
  • Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman LLP :  A total of $845,000 has been budgeted by the New York State Assembly, overseen by Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan), to fight subpoenas issued by the now-shuttered Moreland Commission.  Amongst the parties that Kasowitz Benson represents is Weitz & Luxenberg, the personal injury law firm where Speaker Silver serves as Of Counsel.
  • Kirkland & Ellis :  Approximately $150,000 has been paid to represent Republican State Senators.  Kirkland & Ellis was retained by Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre).
  • Loeb & Loeb LLP :  Approximately $70,000 has been paid out of a total budget of $150,000 to Loeb & Loeb, which was retained by Democratic Senate Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein (D-The Bronx). 
  • Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC :  Thus far, only $10,000 has been paid to Movillo Abramowitz in a controversial arrangement made by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) in which his reëlection campaign committee would pay legal fees.  The "executive chamber" of the Governor's Office retained the attorney Elkan Abramowitz since the governor's counsel, Mylan Denerstein, was targeted as a witness by federal investigators into controversies surrounding the the Moreland Commission.

Of the reported legal fees, approximately $1.4 million have been paid for by taxpayers.  The minuscule $10,000 in fees reportedly paid for by Gov. Cuomo's campaign committee was not paid for by taxpayers, even though the use of campaign committee funds to essentially indemnify public employees raises legal and ethical questions.  Further questions about the legal arrangement made by Gov. Cuomo pertain to the insignificant amount paid thus far.  In a bombshell report published by The New York Times last summer, several key Cuomo administration officials appeared to be centrally involved in the actions that appeared to obstruct the corruption-fighting work of the Moreland Commission, which Gov. Cuomo personally disbanded in a questionable backroom deal with state legislators.  Under state campaign finance regulations, discounts on, or the provision of unpaid, services to campaign committees must be declared as in-kind contributions to such campaign committees. 

Separately, Ms. Denerstein and Gov. Cuomo's secretary, Lawrence Schwartz, have reportedly retained their own private counsel.

A Report about increased legal fees paid to Kasowitz Benson was reported on Tuesday by Capital New York.

A prior report by Capital New York indicated that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has issued subpoenas anew, requesting information about the outside income of state legislators.  Original subpoenas issued by the Moreland Commission seeking that information triggered the retention of law firms to oppose those subpoenas.  The new subpoenas issued by U.S. Attorney Bharara apparently seek to continue the Moreland Commission's corruption-fighting work after the U.S. Attorney's Office took possession of the former panel's investigatory files following the panel's demise by Gov. Cuomo in a cynical political move that was decried by government reform activists.  

Gov. Cuomo's reported obstruction of the Moreland Commission and allegations that his administration tried to cover up the obstruction briefly united government reform activists from the political left and right in the time leading up to Gov. Cuomo's troubled political primary in September and his ultimate reëlection last month.  Initially, the Cuomo reëlection campaign sought to win by a landslide with a margin of victory greater than that achieved by his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo.  However, after Gov. Cuomo faced a challenging primary race, government reform activists were emboldened to dog him, particularly on social media, leaving Gov. Cuomo with an actual margin of victory that was much lower than expected.  In the process, Gov. Cuomo was seen to have been politically-weakened by voter backlash to each of allegations of his administration having obstructed the Moreland Commission's work and his administration's embrace of a neoliberal, big business agenda.  Rather than enact political reforms to fight corruption, Gov. Cuomo was seen as having become part of the problem of corruption up in Albany.