Barbara Underwood, is the first woman to serve as New York state attorney general. She met with the New York Law Journal June 15 at her Manhattan office. (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM) Barbara Underwood (Photo: David Handschuh/ALM)

New York Attorney General-elect Letitia “Tish” James Thursday said she would name her predecessor, Attorney General Barbara Underwood, to return to the role of New York solicitor general.

Underwood has agreed to serve in the second-ranking role in January, when James is set to take over as the state’s top litigator.

The move will return Underwood to the role she held for more than a decade until earlier this year when the state Legislature chose her to fill out the remainder of former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s term. Schneiderman left office amid allegations of domestic abuse.

Underwood was first appointed to be solicitor general by Gov. Andrew Cuomo when he started his only term as the state attorney general in 2007. She chose to stay out of the race for attorney general this year after she was appointed to serve in the interim, declining to seek the position or endorse any of the candidates.

“It’s been an incredible privilege to serve as New York’s 66th Attorney General—and I look forward to continuing to serve the people of New York as I resume my former role of Solicitor General in January,” Underwood said in a statement. “I’m so honored to be joining Tish’s team. It’s clear that Tish is committed to building on the critically important work of the past few years and that, under her leadership, we’ll continue and expand our efforts to protect New Yorkers and fight for equal justice for all.”

James has praised Underwood’s work during the six months she’s served as the state’s top litigator. She echoed her approval in a statement Thursday.

“Since May of this year, Barbara Underwood has carried the mantle, serving New Yorkers as the state’s top law enforcement officer,” James said. “She is an exceptionally qualified attorney who has the experience and skills we need to continue taking on the greatest challenges facing our state. I am honored and proud to make this appointment and to have her serve alongside me.”

Underwood has been anything but a placeholder for the next state attorney general since she took office following Schneiderman’s resignation.

She kicked off her tenure by announcing a lawsuit against President Donald Trump and his charitable foundation, the Trump Foundation. She is seeking $2.8 million in restitution from the foundation for allegedly colluding with officials from Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign on a fundraiser for veterans groups. The suit alleges the foundation was also used to settle a handful of self-dealing financial disputes for Trump. She wants to ban him from serving as the leader of a nonprofit in New York for a decade.

She’s also led the charge on several other legal actions against the Trump administration, including one that is currently being tried in federal court. That’s the lawsuit over the administration’s decision to ask about citizenship on the 2020 U.S. census. The trial is expected to end next week, but the litigation will likely continue on appeal.

Underwood also has been charged with bringing litigation unrelated to the Trump administration, like the lawsuit she filed in August against Purdue Pharma for allegedly contributing to the opioid epidemic through misleading marketing tactics. The litigation is ongoing in Suffolk County and is expected to continue well into next year, according to filings.

The office also has been tasked with defending the state against a handful of major lawsuits while Underwood has served, sometimes unsuccessfully.

A group of opioid distributors sued the state in July over a new law that imposes a surcharge based on the amount of product they sell in New York. Attorneys from Underwood’s office have tried to dismiss the lawsuit, most recently asking that the suit be moved from federal court to state court.

There’s also the ongoing lawsuit from the National Rifle Association against Cuomo and the state Department of Financial Services that Underwood’s office has been tasked with defending. The gun lobby group alleged in a lawsuit that Cuomo and the agency used official state actions to stifle their free speech rights. The state was recently unsuccessful in dismissing the lawsuit, which will move forward in federal court.

Underwood’s office, meanwhile, was successful in dismissing a lawsuit against the state from UnitedHealthCare earlier this year over the constitutionality of a regulation that reallocated federal funds in the form of risk adjustment payments.

Before joining the attorney general’s office under Cuomo, Underwood had a resume padded with experience as a career prosecutor. She worked for district attorneys in both Queens and Brooklyn during the early part of her career. She’s also held positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York and was briefly the U.S. solicitor general on an interim basis.

She will resume her role as the state’s solicitor general in January.


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