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When he beat the odds and an incumbent and won election as New York State attorney general six years ago, Eliot Spitzer was intent on redesigning the Department of Law in his own image. With his announcement Tuesday that he is running for governor, Spitzer hopes to leave his imprint on the entire state. If elected in 2006, Spitzer will likely bring a management style to the executive chamber that by most accounts has proven extraordinarily successful in the attorney general’s office, which is just around a Capitol corner from Gov. George E. Pataki’s suite. That style was evident at a recent tactical session on a potential telecommunications case, when an army of lawyers marched out of the attorney general’s office 25 flights above Wall Street. There was First Deputy Attorney General Michele Hirshman, Deputy Attorney General Dieter Snell, other executive-level lawyers in the Department of Law, a middle manager or two and the line attorney. Virtually every level of the Department of Law’s rather loose hierarchy was represented as litigators and managers deliberated legal strategy. Last out of the room was Spitzer himself, like a general covering his flank. “And,” the attorney general stressed, “there was no ‘Mr. Spitzer this’ or ‘Mr. Spitzer that.’” That meeting, the attorney general and his closest aides say, was illustrative of Spitzer’s “flat” management style. “The engine of [the attorney general's] office is the middle-level managers,” said Hirshman, a former bureau chief in the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office and one of Spitzer’s closest advisors. “The organization is pretty flat above that. Eliot doesn’t hesitate to call bureau chiefs, even if there are people on the organizational chart between them. And they don’t hesitate to call Eliot.” With the telecom matter, it was not even clear if there was a case. Yet everyone from the in-the-trenches litigator to Spitzer was already in the loop. Spitzer’s management philosophy is evident in the manner by which some of the biggest cases percolate through the office structure and yield headline-grabbing and industry-reforming results. Take the recent insurance industry probes, for instance. David D. Brown IV, a Harvard-trained lawyer Spitzer recruited from Goldman Sachs, received some anonymous letters suggesting that the known flaws in the operation of the insurance industry were deeper than imagined, perhaps even implicating bid rigging. Subpoenas went out; documents came in. A hungry young intern in Brown’s investor protection bureau, Craig Winters, was sifting through subpoenaed e-mails when he stumbled on a Marsh & McLennan Cos. employee’s apparent solicitation of a phony bid. Bingo. Instantly, that raised the specter of a criminal prosecution, which brought in two career prosecutors, Peter Pope, head of Spitzer’s criminal division, and Snell, who oversees the public integrity unit. Spitzer, who was involved from the start, had input from several different perspectives — criminal, civil, logistical — almost immediately. Once again, New York’s crusading attorney general was well on his way to taking on the insurance business in the same manner he has gone after the securities industry, Midwest polluters and gun manufacturers. Spitzer, a Democrat, was elected in 1998 after a long and bruising campaign against one-term Republican incumbent Dennis C. Vacco. The race was so close that Vacco refused to concede until mid-December. But since then, Spitzer, who campaigned on a platform of restoring integrity and credibility to the Department of Law, has become one of the most popular public officials in New York. He is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the most proactive attorney general since a predecessor, Thomas E. Dewey, rode a battle train against racketeering in the 1940s to the governor’s mansion and the Republican nomination for president. Opinion polls show Spitzer has a high approval rating and, at times, has had the highest numbers of any statewide official in New York. He is consistently ahead of Gov. George E. Pataki and garners approval ratings similar to that of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, who was re-elected last month with a record 71 percent of the vote. Spitzer has also proven to be a prodigious fund-raiser — notwithstanding the fact that he has described money as “the cancer in politics” — and currently has about $5.3 million in the bank for a gubernatorial campaign. Many of the contributions to Spitzer 2006 came from lawyers; some of the money came from mutual fund managers. “I’d rather be viewed as a good lawyer than a good politician or a good fund-raiser or whatever else,” said Spitzer in a recent interview in his office. “Being a good lawyer is how I want the legal community to see me � – somebody who has the dedication to enforce the rule of law in a way that is evenhanded and fair.” QUALITY LEGAL WORK Spitzer and observers say the key to the attorney general’s success in his current position, as well as his political aspirations, lies in the management of what amounts to a 660-plus public interest law firm, and the quality of the lawyering as measured not only by the outcome in any given case, but in the perception of the judiciary. “My first constituency is the judges of the state,” Spitzer said. “They will look at the quality of our lawyering and that will determine success or failure.” An upstate federal magistrate judge who regularly presides over attorney general cases said the quality of the legal work, of which he was critical before Spitzer took office, is now “exceptional.” “They are timely in their responses, and that wasn’t always the case,” the judge said. “Plus, the quality of the responses is superior, which is strange because the personnel really hasn’t changed. It has to be the administration.” An eastern New York magistrate judge handling dozens of prisoner litigation cases and habeas corpus petitions said that “every now and then” a brief will be “less than what we want.” But the judge said he appreciates the job assistant attorneys general are doing “framing the issues for us” and observed that overall the office seems to be functioning at a high level. “The line attorneys here doing the grunt work are doing a good job,” the judge said. “There are not cases falling through the cracks. They haven’t missed the mark yet.” Northern District U.S. Judge Lawrence E. Kahn, a former state Supreme Court justice who has observed dozens of assistant attorneys general under several administrations, said the Spitzer administration is unique. “Each AG brings his own style and mark to the office,” Kahn said. “But Spitzer is unusually intense and involved and interested in all aspects of the office.” Kahn said it is obvious that Spitzer is a hands-on administrator and that that approach positively impacts the attorneys he regularly encounters. “He really seems to know his staff, what they are handling and seems very interested in what they are doing,” Kahn said. “That kind of approach makes the attorney general’s office more cohesive and more effective. There is more accountability and more pride because the attorneys know their AG and know that he is interested in what they are doing. It gives them more incentive to do the job well.” Edgar C. NeMoyer, who spent 18 years as a Court of Claims judge before retiring two years ago, said the quality of lawyering was consistently high under the four attorneys general who defended the state during his time on the bench. He said Spitzer’s operation is top-notch. “I think Spitzer’s terrific, I really do,” NeMoyer said. “He’s lean and mean and he takes care of business, and I think his office reflects that.” A recently retired Manhattan Supreme Court justice said the quality of the legal work under Spitzer is far superior to what it was during the Vacco years. The former judge said the difference is particularly pronounced in the run-of-the-mill cases, the ones that garner headlines only when there is a major mistake but matter deeply to a relatively small number of constituents. “[Spitzer] is more aggressive in responding to a whole variety of interests, what might be called ‘small interests,’ as well as Merrill Lynch,” the former judge said. “I was impressed with their performance. The papers were good. The cases were well prepared. Is that different than before? Yes. It is such an improvement, a tremendous improvement.” In building his senior-level staff, Spitzer leans toward people much like himself � attorneys with Ivy League degrees (Spitzer went to Princeton and Harvard), law review credentials (Spitzer was an editor of the Harvard Law Review), experience clerking for judges (Spitzer once clerked for U.S. Southern District Judge Robert W. Sweet) and formative years serving as prosecutors (one of Spitzer’s first jobs was as an assistant district attorney in Manhattan). He recruited heavily from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District — Hirshman and Snell both had long careers as federal prosecutors — and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s operation. Like Spitzer, Pope worked for Morgenthau. So did Francine James, the assistant first deputy attorney general in charge of legal recruitment and training. “I have long maintained that it was hugely important early on when I signaled to the world at large that we were bringing in some really spectacular lawyers,” Spitzer said. “Michele [Hirshman] and Dieter [Snell] had big reputations and came from the Southern District, which of course was the paragon of what government lawyering is supposed to be. To be able to say people from the Southern District are coming over here … made a statement about the office and what my values were.” Spitzer said he recruited prosecutors because he wanted attorneys used to constructing cases with the highest burden of proof. “These are people who were trained in building cases, understanding burdens of proof, understanding how to work with the building blocks of facts to make a case and understand the public interest,” he said. By and large, the people Spitzer brought in at the beginning are still at his side. Nearly every member of the executive legal staff has been with Spitzer since day one despite the fact that their pay is far less than they could command in private practice and even lower than some public service positions. They cite a number of reasons — from the nature of the work to Spitzer’s family-first policy (he has three daughters himself) that encourages staffers to be not only good lawyers but good parents — for remaining in the office. Reflective of that policy is the fact that several of Spitzer’s top aides — including Hirshman and Solicitor General Caitlin J. Halligan — are mothers with young children. Forty-three percent of the attorneys in the Department of Law are women. “I’m not sure where I could find a more challenging and more interesting job,” said Halligan, who was allowed several months leave, and assured of her high-level job, after her baby was born. “That is why you haven’t seen a lot of turnover. The work is without parallel in either the public or private sector.” One of the few who left is Preeta D. Bansal, now with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. Bansal, a Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard and magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School, had clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens and served as special counsel in the Clinton White House. She was Spitzer’s first solicitor general, a position she held for three years. Bansal was instrumental in the early assembly of the Spitzer administration and charged with the responsibility of encouraging other well-credentialed lawyers to make the same “leap of faith” she made when she agreed to work for Spitzer. “I was very struck by Eliot,” said Bansal, who turned him down twice before agreeing to return to public service. “He was clearly interested in bringing on the brightest, most dynamic lawyers he could find. The first batch of recruits was the most critical, and we all knew it.” Much of the bedrock legal philosophy underlying Spitzer’s approach was gleaned from or amplified through intense discussions with his staff. For example, the development of Spitzer’s views on the “new federalism” illustrate the intellectual collaboration that insiders say is typical of the way he works. Shortly after taking office, Spitzer spoke at a Federalist Society event, using the occasion to defend the nationalist, as opposed to federalist, position that was at odds with that of his host. His posture was overtly defensive. Later that year, Bansal, as solicitor general, delivered a keynote speech to the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, where she made largely the same point as Spitzer, but argued from a progressive position. Bansal said that if the conservatives want to delegate regulatory oversight to the states, wonderful — and the states could then become the “laboratories for democracy” as envisioned by Justice William Brennan, a liberal icon. That intrigued Spitzer and, after several conversations with Bansal, formed the basis for his philosophy that the states can and should flex all the muscles in their regulatory biceps to fill the void caused by federal deregulation. Spitzer’s use, or exploitation, of the so-called “new federalism” became a frequent tactic for the office, and a major source of scorn and frustration for the federalists. For example, U.S. Rep. Michael G. Oxley, an Ohio Republican, has suggested that New York’s attorney general concentrate on prosecuting fraud in his own state rather than in “setting national market policy, which is what [Spitzer] clearly seeks to do through threatening firms with litigation.” Others have the same complaint with Spitzer and his operation. Similar to the way in which the new federalism became part of Spitzer’s arsenal, the idea of attacking structural corruption rather than merely individual crimes evolved from discussions with colleagues. In Morgenthau’s shop, Pope and Spitzer worked with Robert Mass, then a labor rackets prosecutor and now an attorney with Goldman Sachs. Mass showed the future attorney general and his future criminal division chief how to target corrupt institutions and business models rather than just individual perpetrators. The theory was that targeting individuals rather than dismantling the structure has little long-term impact since the same dynamics that made individual corruption possible remained in place. When one criminal is gone, another takes his place in the corrupt enterprise — a cycle that can be broken only if the enterprise itself is reformed, or so goes the theory. Spitzer embraced that protocol as an assistant in Morgenthau’s office to clean up the trucking industry, which had long been under the thumb of the Gambino crime family. Rather than simply bringing criminal charges against Thomas and Joseph Gambino, Spitzer filed an antitrust suit that put them out of business and garnered a $12 million fine. Since becoming attorney general, Spitzer has used the same strategy against the securities and insurance industries, generally attacking allegedly corrupt business models rather than bit-playing individuals. So, in his most celebrated cases — securities, insurance, guns, environment — Spitzer has successfully used a tactic learned from Mass and matured through his work with. Pope to implement an overarching strategy developed through Socratic brainstorming with Bansal. That, associates say, is indicative of the way he draws on the ingenuity and expertise of a carefully selected staff. “In clerking at the Supreme Court, I’ve been around some very, very smart people,” Bansal said. “I would say that, hands down, Eliot is the smartest person I have ever worked with. And because he is so smart, he is not threatened by having good and smart people around him. In fact, he gets a charge out of it.” THE CRITICS Spitzer has his detractors, and the work of his office has not escaped criticism. Some attorneys, especially those representing targets of Spitzer’s investigations, characterize him as a crassly ambitious political opportunist willing to make his career at the expense of someone else’s. One lawyer who worked in the Department of Law for several years under several attorneys general said Spitzer seems self-absorbed and interested in his staff only to the extent that they make him look good. “I think he is very, very smart and the people around him are very, very smart. I think they have great ideas,” the retired lawyer said. “I just don’t think they are nice people. I don’t think they are nice to their staff, and I don’t think he cares.” Spitzer said he is committed to fostering a positive environment in the office. “If the lawyers weren’t enjoying what they are doing, I’d be very disappointed,” he said. Potential political foes are predictably critical. Pataki’s staff routinely quips that when it comes to Spitzer, “AG” stands not for “attorney general” but “aspiring governor,” suggesting he has treated his position as little more than a springboard to a campaign for higher office — namely, Pataki’s. Additionally, while judges generally praise the legal work of. Spitzer’s staff, there have been exceptions. Four years ago, Court of Claims Judge Francis T. Collins sharply criticized the attorney general’s office for attempting to intimidate an expert witness. The witness, a former state corrections commissioner, was reminded that he remained a defendant in dozens of cases and that his indemnification might be in jeopardy if he started testifying for claimants in actions against his former employer. Judge Collins said in Robinson v. State, 95245, that “no reasonable attorney” would pull such a stunt and sanctioned the assistant attorney general handling the case. Alan S. Zwiebel of Zwiebel, Brody, Gold & Fairbanks, counsel for the claimant in Robinson, said the case was an aberration from the usual performance of the attorney general’s office. Zwiebel said he has had no further problems with the attorney general’s staff. “The quality of the lawyering is on par with every defense firm I deal with,” Zwiebel said. “It is a professional staff, not a political staff.” In a more recent Court of Claims case, Church v. New York State Thruway Authority, 92341, Judge Judith A. Hard accused the Department of Law of ignoring her scheduling order and neglecting to prepare for trial under the assumption that its summary judgment motion would be granted. The assistant attorney general assumed wrong, according to Hard, and the state was barred from presenting evidence on damages. That led to a $42.4 million award against the state. But those sort of glitches are rare, judges and practitioners say, and at most reflect the occasional stumble that would be expected from any institution as large as the Department of Law. “Given the number of cases we have here, sure, you will see screw-ups,” Hirshman admitted. “But my sense in talking to the judges is they have been impressed with the quality of our work. Our briefs are correct and well written. But more importantly, they can trust what we say. They know we are not going to steer them wrong.”

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