Gov. Kathy Hochul is examining some $5 million in pending taxpayer-funded contracts with the law firms and public relations outfit her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, hired to represent his office and staff before stepping down, THE CITY has learned.
“We will be reviewing all legal contracts and making appropriate decisions on the need for legal representation and whether to continue any contracts,” a spokesperson for the governor told THE CITY in response to questions about the outstanding bills.
All told, between lawyers representing Cuomo’s office and outside counsel brought in to investigate him, taxpayers face a potential total bill of $8.78 million based on contracts already signed by Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James’ office and the state Assembly.
As of this week, one of two prominent Manhattan law firms and a public relations company Cuomo hired several months back had submitted bills to the executive chamber. Before he left office Cuomo signed off on about $785,000 in payments for one of the law firms and the p.r. concern, records show.
That leaves another $4.2 million in potential bills under the contracts inked by Cuomo. Hochul — who in her first day in office pledged a new transparency for state government — will now decide what the firms will be paid going forward.
The law firm Walden Macht & Haran represented the governor’s office in James’ investigation into the sexual harassment accusations against Cuomo that led to his resignation.
A second firm, Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello, was enlisted by the governor’s office to deal with the state Assembly-led impeachment effort and a federal investigation into Cuomo’s public representations about the number of nursing home deaths during the pandemic.
As of Wednesday, only the Morvillo firm had been paid, receiving about $765,000 back in July, state records show. The Walden firm was expected to submit a bill to the executive chamber before Cuomo left office, but it was unclear whether that happened.
$973 an Hour
Innovative Discovery Holdings, a public relations firm hired by Cuomo that describes itself as “Your trusted partner throughout the litigation lifecycle,” has received three payments totaling $28,534, the most recent one sent out last week, records show.
A spokesperson for Cuomo said the company had “provided assistance with discovery requests made by the New York Attorney General’s office.”
The executive chamber hired Walden Macht & Haran three days after Cuomo asked James to investigate allegations by multiple women accusing the governor of sexual harassment. The lead lawyer, former federal prosecutor Mitra Hormozi, was to be paid $600 per hour — a 20% discount from what the firm says is her usual fee.
Morvillo Abramowitz had represented Cuomo in the past when then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara looked into why the then-governor had shut down a corruption investigation led by a Moreland Commission he himself had appointed. That investigation yielded no criminal charges or findings of wrongdoing by Cuomo.
In February, Cuomo again reached out to the Morvillo Abramowitz firm after the Brooklyn U.S. attorney began looking into whether he and his administration had lied to the federal government about the number of nursing home patients who’d died of COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic last year.
The firm was hired on contract not to exceed $1.5 million, though that cap grew to $2.5 million when the Assembly opened up its impeachment inquiry.
Partner Elkan Abramowitz, a veteran criminal defense lawyer, commands $973 per hour, under the deal — a 25% discount from what the firm says is his usual fee.
The executive chamber signed off on contracts agreeing to pay up to $2.5 million each to both the Walden and Morvillo firms, and both have end dates that take the arrangements well into 2023. A spokesperson for Cuomo said Innovative did not have a retainer agreement.
Lawyers at Walden Macht declined to comment. Morvillo Abramowitz did not respond to a request for comment. Lisa Richmeier, vice president of human resources at Innovative, declined to describe what the company did for Cuomo’s office, stating, “We don’t comment on our work.”
A third law firm, Arnold & Porter, also represented the executive chamber in the attorney general’s investigation, but it has yet to submit a bill and there was still no contract on file with the state comptroller as of Wednesday.
Some Yet to Be Paid
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s campaign is paying his personal lawyer, Rita Glavin, who took to TV to defend the then-governor and cast doubt on the accounts of some of his accusers. As of June 2, her firm, Glavin PLLC, had received $284,873, campaign finance records show.
Law firms were also hired by investigators looking into accusations against Cuomo. Two law firms enlisted by James’ office, for example, inked contracts worth up to $3.5 million: Cleary Gottlieb ($2.552 million) and Vladeck Raskin ($950,000).
A third, Davis Polk, has an agreement worth up to $250,000 to assist the Assembly in its impeachment inquiry, which essentially ended when Cuomo announced his resignation. A final report based on the impeachment investigation is expected in the coming months.
The firms hired by the AG and the Assembly have yet to receive a dime, records show.
James’ Aug. 3 report detailed accusations from 11 women, including three who alleged Cuomo touched them in a sexual manner. The findings triggered several local district attorneys to request the evidence James had collected for possible criminal charges down the road.
James declined to recommend criminal prosecution for any of Cuomo’s actions, although five local district attorneys — in Manhattan, Westchester, Nassau, Oswego and Albany Counties — have opened investigations into some of the sexual harassment accusations. So far none have resulted in any charges.
Some of the DAs recently asked James to delay releasing transcripts of interviews made during her investigation of the sexual harassment claims.
An investigation apparently continues by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn looking into whether Cuomo and his staff misled the U.S. Justice Department about the number of COVID-19-related deaths in nursing homes.