Legislators' firms move to block a Cuomo panel from client info

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ALBANY—Law firms that employ state legislators have filed a motion to block a Cuomo-backed panel from finding out who their clients are, according to court papers.

The law firm Harris Beach said that disclosing the records sought by the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption would violate attorney-client privilege, and that the Moreland subpoena is “oppressive” in nature.

Hiscock & Barclay, which employs two legislators, filed a similiar motion, saying the commission's subpoena was “procedurally improper, as it seeks confidential and privileged information, is facially and fatally overbroad, vague and unduly burdensome.”

The Moreland panel was formed in July and tasked with probing the nexus between money and politics. Several state lawmakers, whose elective positions are part-time posts, receive money from legal firms for sometimes-unclear workloads. Nozzolio, a Rochester area Republican, reported $100,000 to $150,000 of income from the Harris Beach in 2012.

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Hiscock & Barclay employs Sen. Neil Breslin, an Albany-area Democrat, as an “of counsel” associate. He reported between $20,000 and $50,000 of income in 2012.

Assemblyman Will Barclay, an Oswego County Republican, is a partner in the firm that his family started. He declared between $50,000 and $75,000 in income in 2012.

Hiscock & Barclay's subpoena, which was disclosed in the court docket, does not reference Breslin but seeks Barclay's invoices, hourly billings, client lists and other documents from January 1, 2010 to the present. The Harris Beach subpoena seeks similar documents related to Nozzolio.

“Because there is no factual predicate of public corruption or wrongdoing by Harris Beach or Senator Nozzolio, the Subpoena is nothing more than an unfounded and highly intrusive fishing expedition,” Harris Beach's court papers contend.

In a statement, the Moreland Commission's co-chairs—Fund for Modern Courts chairman Milton Williams as well as Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice and Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick—reiterated their authority.

"In addition to Executive Law 6 and the Executive order, the Moreland Commission has full legal authority, as Deputy Attorneys General, granted by the Attorney General, under Executive Law 63(8) to proceed with this investigation," they said. "It should be noted that a significant number of employers of both Assembly members and Senators who were asked for information are cooperating. We had hoped everyone would work together but they did not. We are confident we will prevail in court."

Lawmakers have engaged in an awkward dance with the Moreland Commission, negotiating with Cuomo about an ethics package that would obviate the commission's mandate while resisting the probe.

The commission first asked all legislator-lawyers reporting over $20,000 in income to provide details on their activities and clients, but were rebuffed. They then followed up with subpoenas to lawmakers' parent firms.

It's unclear how the resistance will impact ongoing negotiations. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said this week that the commission and legislators are trying to “work out” an agreement that would preclude a court battle raising concerns about the separation of governmental powers.

Legislators' intention to resist was reported in Friday morning's Daily News, and followed up with an email by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to that chamber's members.

“One or more of the Commissioners have said publicly that the purpose of the Commission is to 'investigate the Legislature.' As well, numerous statements have been made that the reason for the investigation is because the Legislature did not enact proposed 'reform' legislation,” Silver wrote. “One thing is certain: it is an improper and illegal use of Executive authority for appointees of that branch of government to 'investigate the Legislature' merely because the Commissioners would like to compel passage of proposed legislation.”

A Harris Beach spokesman declined to comment. Spokespeople for Barclay and Nozzolio did not immediately comment.

Last month, the Senate Republican Campaign Committee also moved to quash a Moreland Commission subpoena.