Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, January 22, 2015

New York's Legislature is pretty awful, and I don't know anyone outside of the political machine that would disagree. There are a lot of things that are bad about it, but one big thing is that the legislators are allowed to take outside employment. In fact, so are their staff members. This means that they can practice law, or sell insurance, or run other sorts of businesses, and in their "private" dealings they are allowed to do business with the state. Being an Assemblyman or a state Senator is thought to be part-time work, notwithstanding the six-figure salary. Being a staff member is likewise part-time, so you can be a state Senator, and have a staff member who draws a salary from the state, who is also employed by, e.g. your law firm, or insurance brokerage or what have you. As stupid and wrong as that seems, one universal rule still applies: Pigs get fat; hogs get slaughtered. I have no insight into whether Sheldon Silver is guilty as charged or not, but the mere fact that he has disclosed three  quarters of a million bucks a year in income from Weitz & Luxenberg is enough to make even the most cynical observer believe that there is more than merely smoke emanating from the Speaker's office.

UPDATE: Five Thirty Eight provides us with this handy table to help us get our heads around political corruption in the fifty laboratories of democracy. Here's the thing: apart from the difficulties associated with enacting legislation that inhibits legislators from doing what they want to do it shouldn't be so hard to craft decent ethics laws, and it certainly shouldn't be hard to enforce them. I'm all about the presumption of innocence, and I wouldn't want to suggest that Sheldon Silver be suspended from representing his constituents while this thing plays out, but it is not encouraging to hear my former classmate and present Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle on the radio first thing in the morning talking about how the Democratic caucus stands behind Speaker Silver. Wouldn't the right thing to do be to step aside from the Speaker's podium while the case was pending? Shouldn't Joe and his fellow caucus members have gently suggested this? I pick on a lot of places in this space, places that are racist or generally bigoted, places that elect horrible people to high office, that sort of thing, and then I look around and realize that my glass house is in need of some glazing. Criminal law is a pretty blunt tool for this sort of work-- what we should be doing is buttonholing our representatives and telling them that we're tired of this bullshit.


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