As Gov. Andrew Cuomo considers whether to sign a bill to establish a state commission on prosecutorial conduct, Cayuga County District Attorney Jon Budelmann believes the proposed panel is unnecessary.
State Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican, sponsored the measure. It received bipartisan support in the state Legislature. After passing both houses in June, it was delivered to the governor on Wednesday.
Budelmann has many concerns with the legislation. District attorneys, he explained, are subject to the attorney grievance process. He referenced an attorney grievance committee's decision in June to ban former St. Lawrence County District Attorney Mary Rain from practicing law for two years due to misconduct.
But cases like Rain's are rare. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York studied 2.5 million adult criminal cases between 2010 and 2015 and found 54 claims of "substantiated prosecutorial misconduct."
The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, like Budelmann, opposes the creation of a commission on prosecutorial conduct.
"The idea that this is a rampant problem that needs to be reeled in is wrong," Budelmann said in a phone interview Thursday.
He noted that district attorneys are not only subject to the attorney grievance process, they also are subject to judicial oversight. If there is a claim of wrongdoing during a case, the judges review it. The judges, he continued, have the authority to sanction the district attorneys, hold evidence out, dismiss charges or file grievances against the prosecutors.
There is additional scrutiny of prosecutors, Budelmann added, from the public and the press. And in the case of district attorneys, it's an elected position.
"I appear in front of the voters every four years," he said. "If I'm doing something wrong, they have a very quick remedy, which is to remove me."
DeFrancisco, a longtime attorney in central New York, insists the commission is necessary. The panel would be modeled after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which was established in 1974.
After the state Senate delivered the bill to the governor, DeFrancisco released a statement urging Cuomo to sign the legislation.
"Prosecutors have substantial power, and defendants who go through the criminal justice system and have been wronged by a prosecutor must have an independent body to review the alleged conduct," he said.
Budelmann questions the constitutionality and motivation for the bill. He also expressed concern about the fiscal impact of creating the commission.
According to the legislation, the commission would cost $5.5 million when it's fully operational. If Cuomo signs the bill, the commission would form at the beginning of 2019.
Cuomo has until Aug. 20 to determine whether to sign or veto the bill. His office said Thursday that the bill is under review.
"You have a solution in search of a problem," Budelmann said. "There's no issue of rampant prosecutorial misconduct. There's plenty of oversight of district attorneys."