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Brownville man should soon get his day in ethics court

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Its supporters said that a state ethics reform bill would mean increased accountability in the Capitol and “cleaning up Albany.”

But for one Brownville man accused of bilking the state out of tens of thousands of dollars, it has meant a four-month delay in having the opportunity to try to clear his name.

“There is nothing new,” said Glenn A. LaFave, the former executive director of the Hudson River-Black River Regulating District.

Mr. LaFave was accused of manipulating his time sheets to reap tens of thousands in ill-gotten salary benefits from the state authority.

Contacted Wednesday at his home via telephone, Mr. LaFave would say only that nothing in his case was new, and abruptly ended a conversation with a reporter when pressed.

In July, a report from the inspector general was referred to the Commission on Public Integrity, which, unlike the inspector general, could have leveled a civil fine. But by August, that commission was no more, and its replacement, Joint Commission on Public Ethics, did not become operational until Monday, leaving a four-month gap where the state had no ethics watchdog and ongoing cases collected dust.

And by Wednesday, JCOPE was hardly up and running. Its commissioners have still not picked an executive director. And staffers who answered the phone there said that the commission was so short-handed that it could not answer questions, even in general, about public integrity cases like Mr. LaFave’s.

A spokesman for the former Commission on Public Integrity told the Times in July that it had received the complaint about Mr. LaFave, but by law could not comment on whether it would launch a full investigation and possibly levy a fine. The spokesman added that cases before the Commission on Public Integrity would be forwarded on to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, though JCOPE officials did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday and Wendesday.

Good-government advocates said that JCOPE would soon be at full speed. Its powers are broader than its predecessors, with the ability to investigate the legislative and executive branches.

“We have been assured by (Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s) office that the investigations that were ongoing or were imminent would be the first ones taken up, like, today,” Barbara Bartoletti, of the League of Women Voters, said Tuesday. “We will monitor that type of thing to make sure the investigations present when the CPI went out of business are processed very quickly.”

Mr. LaFave has had to wait four months to clear his name. Did that jeopardize the right to a fair and speedy trial in the court of public opinion?

“It’s not justice denied, but it is justice delayed,” said Richard Dadey of Citizens Union. “There are cases like this that have been in limbo that will need the JCOPE’s judicious and quick attention because of this lapse in time.”

David Grandeau, a former state ethics official who now runs a blog on state integrity matters, said Mr. LaFave is better off with his case before JCOPE, instead of the Commission on Public Integrity.

“Under the old public integrity commission, four and a half months barely gave them the time to figure out how to spell his name right,” he said. “It wasn’t an agency known for speed or accuracy. ... I’d certainly want JCOPE instead of the Commission on Public Integrity. They can’t do a worse job. The bar is exceedingly low.”

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