A special district attorney appointed to investigate the Working Families Party's involvement in a 2009 City Council race on Staten Island has been given the green light to continue his probe. The Appellate Division, Second Department, on Wednesday rejected the party's claim that Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Donovan was improperly replaced by attorney Roger Bennett Adler. Donovan was removed from the case at his own request for reasons that remain under seal and Adler was appointed special district attorney by Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher (See Profile).
After Adler issued subpoenas to the treasurer and secretary of the Working Families Party in January, the party began an Article 78 proceeding arguing that Donovan had not demonstrated he should be disqualified and Fisher lacked authority to appoint a special district attorney because she is not a Staten Island judge.
In a brief, unsigned decision, Justices L. Priscilla Hall (See Profile), Plummer Lott (See Profile), Leonard Austin (See Profile) and Jeffrey Cohen (See Profile) said prohibition is an available remedy to challenge the appointment of a special district attorney only when the appointee is "performing the quasi-judicial act of representing the State in its effort to bring individuals accused of crimes to justice." The panel said prohibition is not an available remedy when the special district attorney is "performing the purely investigative function of investigating 'suspicious circumstances' with a view toward determining whether a crime has been committed."
Adler's probe, records suggest, focuses on the City Council race and questions over the party's use of a for-profit arm, Data and Field Services, and Citizen Action, a liberal advocacy group, to promote Democratic candidates and possibly to improperly obtain matching campaign funds from New York City's Campaign Finance Board.
Appearing in Working Families Party v. Fisher, 2013-02052, were Avi Schick and Kiran Patel of Dentons for the party; assistant district attorney Morrie Kleinbart for Donovan; and deputy counsel Lee Alan Adlerstein, Office of Court Administration, for Fisher.