Efforts to claw back $5 million from former Gov. Andrew Cuomo for a book he wrote about the COVID-19 pandemic by a defunct ethics panel was rejected by a state Supreme Court in Albany County in a ruling issued on Tuesday.
State Supreme Court Judge Denise Hartman determined the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which disbanded last month as a successor organization prepares to takeover, did not follow proper procedure when it sought to recoup the money Cuomo received to release "American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic."
Hartman determined the commission did not allow for due process in rescinding its original approval for the book by staff in the summer of 2020 and then seeking to reclaim the money from Cuomo.
"JCOPE issued the approval for the outside activity, then unilaterally determined wrongdoing, then withdrew the approval, and finally imposed the disgorgement penalty – all without the opportunity for a due process hearing explicitly provided for under the procedures set forth in Executive Law," Hartman wrote in the ruling.
At the same time, Hartman denied motions from the former ethics panel as academic given it no longer exists. A successor panel is set to takeover the duties of ethics oversight and lobbying regulation in the coming months.
The development is a legal victory for the ex-governor, who resigned a year ago amid allegations of sexual harassment an inappropriate conduct. Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing. Hartman, however, also the left the door open to the new ethics commission to still recover the money from the former governor.
“JCOPE’s utter lawlessness in its treatment of Governor Cuomo has been exposed and the rule of law prevailed," said Rita Glavin, an attorney for Cuomo. "JCOPE’s conduct was shameful, unlawful, and a waste of taxpayer’s funds.”
Cuomo's book has caused controversy for almost two years. His handling of the pandemic has been called into question by public health officials after it was found the state under counted the number of nursing home residents who died in the early months of the crisis.
A report released by the state Assembly Judiciary Committee last year found Cuomo used state resources to help him write the book; Cuomo and his aides have maintained staff were doing so on a voluntary basis.