Grand Jury Secrecy Applies to Eliot Spitzer

Good for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo who has written an advisory opinion (available here (pdf))informing the District Attorney who wanted Gov. Paterson to release documents and communications provided by Eliot Spitzer that Paterson cannot do so -- they are covered by grand jury secrecy.

In response to a request for advice from the Governor's office, Cuomo writes:

You have asked for advice concerning District Attorney P. David Soares’ request, dated March 24, 2008, that Governor David A. Paterson grant a waiver of grand jury secrecy and all applicable privileges with respect to certain documents provided to the District Attorney’s office by former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Shorter version: Governor Paterson does not have he power to waive Grand Jury secrecy or legal privileges reserved by Spitzer.

The New York Times has the backstory: [More...]

One of the waivers the district attorney is seeking relates to e-mail messages and other material that Mr. Spitzer’s office turned over in response to a grand jury subpoena, an unusual move given the secrecy surrounding such proceedings.

The executive branch would also need to consider what precedent would be set by sweeping aside legal privileges that the Spitzer administration claimed. Doing so could also invite a suit from Mr. Spitzer.

Grand jury secrecy is not a political football. As Cuomo points out, citing a court opinion:

The Grand Jury has long been heralded as the shield of innocence . . . and as the guard of liberties of the people against the encroachments of unfounded accusations from any source. . . . Accordingly, secrecy has become a vital requisite of Grand Jury proceedings.

He concludes:

In short, the secrecy of the Grand Jury process must be preciously guarded, and the Governor does not have the legal right to waive that secrecy.... Again, only a court, and not the Governor, can make that determination.

Cuomo lists four alternatives to making the information public:

1. District Attorney Soares may obtain a court order authorizing disclosure of documents produced to the Grand Jury;
2. former Governor Spitzer may waive his claims of privilege;
3. the Senate may prevail in its litigation challenging the former Governor’s claim of privilege;
4. the Public Integrity Commission may issue a NORC and disclose documents.

Credit is also due to Gov. Paterson for seeking the opinion of the state's top law enforcement officer, rather than deciding on his own.

Update: I just received a press release from AG Cuomo's office. It begins:

Today my Office issued a legal opinion as requested by the Governor of the State of New York. The advice sought by Governor Paterson concerns whether the Governor can grant a waiver of grand jury secrecy and all applicable privileges with respect to certain documents provided to the District Attorney's Office by former Governor Eliot Spitzer.

Yesterday, I briefed Governor Paterson on the opinion. In short, only a court can waive grand jury secrecy and former Governor Spitzer’s privileges can be waived by former Governor Spitzer, or - if he refuses - defeated by a court. The Governor and I both believe deeply in transparency and disclosure and want all relevant documents released. The only question is the best legal vehicle to reach that end.

With respect to materials provided to the District Attorney for which former Governor Spitzer has reserved his privilege claims, my Office’s legal opinion acknowledges former Governor Spitzer’s claim of privilege and that he is legally justified in pursuing these claims of privilege as they were reserved by him when he provided material to the District Attorney. However, my personal opinion is that given the unique circumstances presented in this matter, it is in the public interest that the former Governor withdraw his privilege claims for the sake of the public's right to full disclosure and transparency.

On a related note, TrooperGate, Cuomo's press release says a new report was released today finding misconduct by Spitzer:

Today, the District Attorney released a report illuminating new important facts on the so-called “Troopergate” matter. The Attorney General’s Office began the investigation approximately eight months ago. Our Report last July found that members of Governor Spitzer’s senior administration staff had used the State Police in a political plot to discredit an adversary. The Albany District Attorney’s report today demonstrates this same improper conduct. Indeed, the District Attorney’s report also reveals that the scheme involved the former Governor himself.
< Chuck Todd: Clinton Staying In Helps Dems | Contempt For Clinton Supporters and Clinton Voters >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Must Be (none / 0) (#1)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 05:38:47 PM EST
    That Cuomo has an excellent staff.

    On the other hand, (none / 0) (#2)
    by diogenes on Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 06:30:26 PM EST
    Paterson does have the right to waive grand jury secrecy if he goes before a grand jury himself.

    Irrelevant (none / 0) (#3)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 06:45:00 PM EST
    Here is the Story from the NYT. Spitzer's emails are in question, and Paterson is in charge of them since he is now the governor. He will not release them without a waiver, nor should he.

    "In short, only a court can waive grand jury secrecy and former Governor Spitzer's privileges can be waived by former Governor Spitzer, or -- if he refuses -- defeated by a court,"

    Besides the worst that can happen is that Spitzer looks bad and Bruno gets to play the victim. Were Spitzer still governor, he could have been removed for misconduct, a moot point given the circumstances.


    Is there a legitimate reason (none / 0) (#4)
    by gyrfalcon on Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 06:46:20 PM EST
    the DA wants the material released, or is it just to humiliate Spitzer by publicizing the details of his sex life?  I don't get it.

    In any case, good for Andrew Cuomo for calling things straight.


    Not Sex Life (none / 0) (#5)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 28, 2008 at 06:48:28 PM EST
    It is about troopergate. A completely different kettle of fish.