ALBANY — Gov. Kathy Hochul named two new appointees to the state’s embattled Joint Commission on Public Ethics, just one day ahead of a special meeting where the group is expected to discuss launching an internal probe into the approval surrounding disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $5.1 million book deal.
The governor named Queens Attorney Jose Nieves as JCOPE chairman and Buffalo Attorney Sharon Stern Gerstman as commissioner Monday afternoon — filling two of three vacancies on the 14-member board following a last minute resignation by acting chair James Dering on Oct. 2 — a Cuomo appointee.
“Restoring trust in government is a top priority for my administration, and that includes strengthening ethics oversight,” Hochul said in a statement.
“Jose Nieves and Sharon Stern Gerstman are well-respected and talented professionals who will uphold our commitment to open, ethical governing and help to transform not just state government, but more importantly, people’s image and perception of their state government.”
The pair are expected to partake in the panel’s Tuesday meeting, called by a group of commissioners who want to possibly begin an internal inquiry into how Cuomo’s book deal application was approved last summer by JCOPE staff without a full commission vote.
A source familiar with the planned meeting said commissioners want to know what details staff and former chair Michael Rozen knew about the deal in July 2020, when Cuomo’s then-special counsel Judith Mogul submitted a request to obtain outside income.
Dering explained the “special, non-regularly scheduled” meeting was also the reason behind his abrupt departure and he thought the panel’s Sept. 14 meeting would have been his last, in a resignation letter obtained by The Post.
He was supposed to resign Oct. 8, he wrote in the letter, adding he already had plans to retire.
Hochul named Dering acting chair ahead of the September meeting after Cuomo-appointee Camile Varlack stepped down last month, shortly after the former governor resigned in disgrace.
But the move drew backlash last month after Hochul’s announcement as critics argued she should have made her own pick rather than promoting a Cuomo-appointee.
Her office later walked back his installation, explaining his position would only be temporary.
Dering also voted against an effort to rescind Cuomo’s book deal approval raised by commissioner Gary Lavine, a Republican appointed by state Sen. Rob Ortt, at the last September meeting.
Hochul’s other new appointee, Randall Hinrichs, a former Suffolk County district administrative judge, also voted in favor of allowing to keep Cuomo’s book deal approval intact.
When asked about his vote, Hochul claimed she “literally” didn’t know Hinrichs, but was pressed to make an appointment.
The governor has one more appointment she can make, but two Cuomo-appointees still remain — Colleen DiPirro and William Fisher.
It is unclear whether or not she will remove them from the board.
JCOPE has been criticized for its lack of transparency when it comes to pursuing ethics investigations, as the panel is unable by law to comment on most of their dealings.
“JCOPE should be blown up and rebuilt from scratch. Until that change JCOPE needs to function as well as it can, and these seem like prompt reasonable picks by Hochul,” said John Kaehny, executive director of the good government group Reinvent Albany.
Gerstman is counsel at the law firm Magavern Magavern Grimm LLP and served as president of the New York State Bar Association in 2017-’18.
She was also previously director of the Bar Association of Eric County and a president of the Erie County Bar Foundation and of the Women Lawyers of Western New York.
Nieves founded the Law Offices of Jose L. Nieves & Associates, and before that worked in the Office of the New York State Attorney General as a deputy chief in the special investigations and prosecutions unit, according to the governor’s office.
He was a captain in the US Army Reserves and deployed to Afghanistan in 2009.
Nieves also ran as a Democratic candidate for Queens District Attorney in 2019, losing to Melinda Katz in the primary.
But he came under fire for his ties to Hiram Monserrate — who was expelled from the state Senate in 2010 after being convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge involving his ex-girlfriend — who helped him during the petitioning process.
“I hope no one dares re-write history. There was deep involvement, this wasn’t a secret to any of us in this part of Queens. Who did the vetting & messed this up so badly? JCOPE is supposed to scrutinized electeds accused of wrong doing… is this really how we are going to do it?” tweeted Queens Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Jackson Heights), slamming Nieves’ appointment and his ties to Monserrate.
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