N.Y. Senate GOP Committee Fights Moreland Subpoena

, New York Law Journal


Moreland Commission co-chairs Kathleen Rice, Milton Williams Jr. and William Fitzpatrick hear testimony
Moreland Commission co-chairs Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; Milton Williams Jr. of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard; and Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick hear testimony at Pace University last month.

An anticipated constitutional showdown between lawmakers and a panel appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to clean up state government took root Wednesday when the New York State Senate Republican Campaign Committee moved to quash a subpoena seeking information on its campaign donors and housekeeping account.

The motion to quash, which was filed in Manhattan Supreme Court and alleges that the Moreland Commission subpoena is overbroad, unconstitutional and "tainted by impermissible partisan bias," is the first direct legal challenge to the panel's authority.

But it is unlikely to be the last, as several lawmakers, especially those who are lawyers, are expecting a fight over the Moreland Commission's attempt to obtain information on legislators' outside business interests, including the names of law clients.

Covington & Burling senior counsel Michael Chertoff and partner Robert Kelner in Washington, D.C., and associate Jennifer Farina in Manhattan represent the Senate Republican Campaign Committee. They are asking the court to both quash the subpoena and issue a protective order to shield the political organization's "most sensitive internal documents."

They contend that disclosure would provide the Moreland Commission, appointed by a Democratic governor, with all of the political committee's documents and communications over a two-year period, revealing its political activities, internal deliberations over its strategies and non-public information on its expenditures.

"While the Commission may disapprove of the fact that New York law allows political party committees to operate housekeeping accounts that are not subject to contribution limits, disapproval of existing law is not an adequate basis for intruding deeply into the most sensitive political communications of a political party," according to the motion papers.

The attorneys argue that enforcement of the subpoena would inevitably interfere with the committee's free speech and associational rights. They also suggest the Moreland Commission is influenced by the Cuomo Administration.

"According to media reports, the [Governor] has exerted significant influence over the conduct of the Commission's investigation, including ordering the Commission to drop plans to subpoena documents from the New York State Democratic Committee, the party with which the [governor] is most intimately involved, and from other interests connected to the Executive," according to the motion.

Cuomo and the commission have denied any gubernatorial interference.

In a joint response to the motion to quash, the commission's co-chairs—Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and Milton Williams Jr., a partner at Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard—said they have full authority under Executive Law and through their designation as deputy attorneys general to issue the subpoena.

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