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A government official sometimes described as the most hated man on Wall Street, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer Wednesday reaffirmed his commitment to the free market in an address before a large crowd at the New York State Bar Association’s annual meeting. Spitzer rejected the “anything goes” attitude he attributed to some of his critics and insisted that the market must rest on a foundation of integrity, trust and honesty. He invoked the tradition of Theodore Roosevelt, both a free marketeer and a trust-busting reformer, and criticized federal regulators and business leaders who lobby for pre-emptive regulation to halt his investigations into brokerages, the insurance industry and other major businesses. He said that if federal regulators abdicate their responsibility to monitor the marketplace, state attorneys general must step into that role. “What we have been met with across the board is this effort to stifle our jurisdiction … because of this notion of the ‘free market,’” Spitzer said. “But I would say to those who invoke the free market … that they fundamentally misunderstand how that market survives and what it takes to maintain that market. … The behavior of competitors in a free market must be guided by a government that defines boundaries of ethics, fair dealing and disclosure. Only government can do it. … The free market alone, unfortunately, would drive certain businesses to a lowest common denominator that is unacceptable. “It is our obligation to find that boundary line to preserve the free market.” Spitzer, who received the Stanley H. Fuld Award from the State Bar’s Section on Commercial & Federal Litigation, attracted the largest crowd ever for the annual event, according to the section’s chairwoman, Lauren J. Wachtler of Montclare & Wachtler in Manhattan. Last month, Spitzer announced his candidacy for governor in 2006. Most of Manhattan’s elite law firms were represented at the award luncheon. So was the judiciary. Among the 65 judges in attendance were three New York Court of Appeals judges, members of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, justices from the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Department appellate divisions, federal and state trial judges, U.S. magistrates and bankruptcy judges. It took Wachtler, even with a platform and microphone, about 15 minutes to quiet down the crowd and get them to take their seats once Spitzer entered the spacious Astor ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “He has brought to the forefront things that have been bothering us for a very long time, and he is doing something about it,” said Wachtler. State Bar President Kenneth G. Standard of Epstein, Becker & Green agreed that Spitzer is an unusual draw. “He’s got a lot of energy,” Standard said. “He is accessible. He has a lot of ideas. Some accuse him of seeking publicity, but he has accomplished quite a bit in getting corporations to take seriously their responsibilities to the public and their shareholders.” Standard, however, took exception to the attorney general’s assertion that no business, including the legal profession, can self regulate. The State Bar president countered that the law business has effectively monitored itself. ROLE OF GOVERNMENT Spitzer, who has come under intense criticism recently from business leaders, spoke for about 30 minutes to a seemingly captivated audience, including a number of attorneys who have been on the opposite side of his investigations. He began by recalling that one of his predecessors as New York’s attorney general was Aaron Burr who, while serving as vice president, killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in a duel. “For those of you who think we play hardball … ” Spitzer said, drawing laughter. He quickly moved on to a substantive analysis of laissez-faire economics and the role of the government in a capitalist society. “The dynamism we are trying to instill in the office is driven by overwhelming dedication to the belief that the free market and capitalist system does create wealth, but it only does so if there is a core integrity to the way business is done,” Spitzer said. The Fuld Award, given for “outstanding contributions to commercial law and litigation,” was presented by Jay L. Himes, chief of the Attorney General’s Antitrust Bureau. Prior recipients include U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, Southern District Judge Sidney H. Stein, former state Court of Appeals Judge and St. John’s University Law School Dean Joseph W. Bellacosa and Senior Judge Joseph M. McLaughlin of the 2nd Circuit.

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