STATE BAR PRESIDENT STEPHEN P. YOUNGER CREATES TASK
FORCE ON GOVERNMENT ETHICS
Panel of Experts Will Examine Key Questions Relating
to Government Ethics
DOES NEW YORK NEED AN ANTI-CORRUPTION LAW?
WHAT ENTITY IS BEST EQUIPPED TO PATROL GOVERNMENT ETHICS?
WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF DISCLOSURE FOR ATTORNEYS WHO WORK OR
VOLUNTEER IN GOVERNMENT?
WHAT DUE PROCESS PROTECTIONS SHOULD BE AFFORDED TO THOSE CHARGED WITH
WHAT REFORMS ARE NECESSARY WITH RESPECT TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT
With the public rapidly losing confidence in government and other
public institutions, and in the wake of the United States Supreme
Court’s decision narrowing the federal law often used to prosecute
government corruption, New York State Bar Association President Stephen
P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP) today
announced the formation of a new Task Force on Government Ethics. The
panel, comprising independent experts drawn from diverse backgrounds,
including government ethics experts, current and former prosecutors and
criminal defense lawyers, academics, and local government practitioners,
will undertake a systematic review of public sector ethics issues that
impact the legal profession.
“Despite the many positive contributions made by public
servants, New York’s citizens have lost confidence in the
integrity of their government institutions,” said Younger.
“To regain their trust, we need comprehensive ethics proposals
that will restore New Yorkers’ confidence in government.
“The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision making it less
likely that government officials can be prosecuted under the
‘theft of honest services’ law makes it particularly
important that we review the entire area of government ethics and the
statutes that allow for enforcement,” added Younger.
Co-chaired by Professor Patricia E. Salkin, associate dean and
director of the Government Law Center (Albany Law School) and Michael J.
Garcia (Kirkland & Ellis LLP of New York), the former United States
Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the task force and its
subcommittees will focus on five key issues:
Does New York need a state anti-corruption law?
New York currently lacks a comprehensive anti-corruption statute. Our
new task force will examine whether New York should adopt a statewide
anti-corruption law and, if so, what components should be contained in
such a law.
What entity is best equipped to patrol government
There are currently multiple enforcement agencies that interpret and
enforce the ethics laws in New York State. Unfortunately, the
result has been conflicting interpretations of the same language setting
out ethical boundaries. As well, there is a serious issue regarding the
independence of our ethics watchdogs. Our task force will recommend
which regulatory or law enforcement agency is best equipped to monitor
What due process protections should be afforded to those
charged with ethics violations?
When multiple agencies with different statutory mandates and
jurisdiction initiate simultaneous investigations, the potential exists
for due process violations and uncertain applicability of procedural and
substantive standards. The task force will study these issues and make
recommendations to ensure that appropriate protections are afforded to
those under investigation.
What is the appropriate level of disclosure for attorneys and
other employees who work or volunteer in government?
In New York’s state government, financial disclosure has been
required since passage of the Ethics in Government Act in 1987. While
expanded disclosure to prevent conflicts and advance transparency is a
desirable goal, it can also have a chilling effect if it is too severe.
Government workers should have to disclose what is needed to assure the
public that they are free from conflicts. But there are countervailing
interests. The task force will look at privacy rights of government
employees. It also will consider disclosure issues related to
private attorneys serving in government, including elected officials,
who may be forced to reveal the identities of their clients.
What reforms are necessary with respect to local government
New York lacks a single, statewide entity charged with coordination,
oversight and enforcement of local government ethics. Recognizing the
diversity in size and geography of these municipal governments, the task
force will study various options for reform to ensure that all public
officials and appointees at the local level are presented with a clearly
articulated set of rules that cover myriad ethics issues that confront
them on a routine basis.
Mr. Younger said, “Each new scandal and investigation involving
a public official chips further away at public confidence in our
government. Unfortunately, in this climate, thousands of ethical
and hardworking public servants are often painted with an overly broad,
negative brush. As this issue plays out across our state and nation, we
risk scaring the next generation of government leaders away from public
service. By recommending how to clarify the ethical lines between right
and wrong, by clearly defining lines of enforcement responsibilities,
and by creating a balance between an attorney’s obligation to his
client and the public’s right to know, we will help restore faith
in our democratic institutions.
“This task force will examine these issues in an independent,
reasoned manner. Our recipe for ethics reform must include an emphasis
on transparency, tempered by common sense,” Younger concluded.
The work of the task force will be framed by a set of “Guiding
Principles on Government Ethics” adopted by the State Bar’s
Executive Committee last January. These principles recommend that ethics
laws should promote transparency in government; should be enforced on an
independent basis; provide clear rules that are fair; should safeguard
due process; and should allow full participation by lawyers in
The task force recommendations will form the basis of a report
expected to be submitted to the Bar Association’s House of
Delegates in early 2011.
Mr. Younger noted that the task force can also make
recommendation on any additional topics it may wish to
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information, please visit www.nysba.org.
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