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NYS Exposed: Agency that suspended Astacio cash strapped, NYS to find millions to investigate bad prosecutors

August 30, 2018 11:29 PM

It's amazing sometimes how New York State can find the money to pay for the things it wants to do.

For instance, it's going to spend $5.5 million on a new commission to investigate bad prosecutors. 

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Meanwhile, as New York State Exposed found out, the commission that does the same thing for judges, has to scratch and claw for every dollar. 

Remember Judge Leticia Astacio? Of course you do.

The state agency that investigated and suspended her is called the Commission on Judicial Conduct.  

At the state's budget hearing this year, the commission's director said the commission is so strapped for cash, he can't hire a court stenographer. 

"And we just don't have a nickel for it," Robert Tembeckjian told a panel of state lawmakers.  

And that's one reason why investigations, like the one into Judge Astacio, take so long. 

But last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill creating a new commission to investigate prosecutors. 

The bill says the prosecutor conduct commission will cost $5.5 million. 

We reached out to the head of the judges' commission on FaceTime. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Does it strike you as odd that this commission for prosecutors would some how get $5.5 million right away?"

Robert Tembeckjian, NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct: "I can't begrudge another agency from getting appropriate start up funding. I do think it is part of the mysterious way of Albany that on one day there's no more money and on the next day, somehow, miraculously there is." 

The state senator who chaired the state's budget hearings was Catherine Young from Olean, on the southern tier. 

She voted no on the bill to create the new prosecutor conduct commission. We reached her on the phone. 

Brean: "If there's money to do this for prosecutors, is there more money to do it for the commission that holds judges accountable?" 

Sen. Catherine Young, (R) Olean: "Well the governor, I don't believe, has publicly addressed that. So that would be a question to ask the governor." 

So that's what we did, and here's what the governor's office said. 

"The governor will work with the legislature to ensure the new commission is funded and can carry out its critical mission of rooting out abuses of power and advancing a justice system that fairly convicts the guilty and exonerates the innocent." 

There have been 244 convictions overturned in New York State. 

But when we asked if the governor has more money for the judicial commission, his office said that's an issue for the budget next year. 

Here's the other issue with new commission: Do we need it?

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley wrote a letter to the governor asking him not to sign the new commission bill and telling him there's already a system to hold prosecutors accountable. 

Brean: "If there's a commission to hold judges accountable, why can't there be a commission to hold prosecutors accountable?" 

Sandra Doorley, Monroe County DA: "Well, we already do. We're attorneys, first and foremost. So you have the Attorney Grievance Committee and that's the process that we believe should be enhanced." 

There's some constitutional problems with this prosecutor commission too. The governor told state lawmakers to figure that out by the end of the year. 

If they do, the new commission goes into effect next April, which is the start of the state's fiscal year. 

That $5.5 million figure means the prosecutor and judge commissions will get the same amount of money. 

Astacio, by the way, has her final hearing in front of the State Court of Appeals in Albany next week. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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