John J. Flanagan’s Former Law Firm Had Matters Before State Agencies
John J. Flanagan, left, worked part time for a law firm for more than a decade. He listed his position as “of counsel” and disclosed earnings of $100,000 to $150,000 annually in 2012 and 2013.CreditNathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
John J. Flanagan, left, worked part time for a law firm for more than a decade. He listed his position as “of counsel” and disclosed earnings of $100,000 to $150,000 annually in 2012 and 2013.CreditCreditNathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
By Thomas Kaplan and Susanne Craig
May 15, 2015
ALBANY — For years, the newly installed State Senate majority leader, John J. Flanagan, has added to his income by working part-time as a lawyer.
The Long Island law firm where he has worked for more than a decade, Forchelli, Curto, Deegan, Schwartz, Mineo & Terrana, has a long list of prominent clients — some of which, including Cablevision and Citibank, are directly affected by decisions made in the state capital. Its website notes that the firm “regularly works on matters involving key governmental agencies,” including New York State agencies.
Yet when Mr. Flanagan was asked this week whether the firm had clients with business before the state, he responded, “I don’t know, I don’t know.” Told the firm did indeed have such clients, he said, “I’m telling you I don’t know.”
Mr. Flanagan’s professed uncertainty about his law firm’s clients offered a reminder of why government watchdog groups have long been concerned about the practice of lawmakers moonlighting as private-sector lawyers. They worry that the positions give lawmakers an opportunity to profit from their offices and could create conflicts of interest.
After he was installed as majority leader on Monday, Mr. Flanagan said he had given up his law firm position the week before because of the demands of the new job. But little is known about the work he did at the firm, where he listed his position as “of counsel” and made $100,000 to $150,000 annually in 2012 and 2013, according to his annual financial disclosure filings. Before his elevation to majority leader, his Senate salary was $97,500. He will earn $121,000 in his new post.
Mr. Flanagan, a Republican from East Northport, in Suffolk County, was catapulted to his powerful post this week after scandal felled his predecessor, Dean G. Skelos, a fellow Long Island Republican who is facing federal corruption charges and stepped down from the leadership position amid mounting pressure.
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Indeed, the drumbeat of scandal in Albany has been so steady that it did not seem unreasonable on Monday when Mr. Flanagan was asked at a news conference to offer an assurance that he did not have any ethical blemishes.
“I don’t believe there’s anything to worry about,” Mr. Flanagan said.
Mr. Flanagan said on Tuesday that he did not represent any clients with business before the state. He said he had dropped his law firm job to enable him to devote himself to being majority leader.
“I made a personal decision for a variety of reasons to just step away from my practice,” Mr. Flanagan said. “And I want to concentrate on this job, and I believe given the magnitude of the responsibility that the only way I can do that is to make sure it’s the only thing that I’m working on.”
The law firm did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
The outside income of legislators has drawn considerable scrutiny in Albany, and recent criminal cases have brought more attention to the issue. In January, the longtime Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, was arrested on accusations of taking illicit payments that were disguised as legitimate income from practicing law.
Mr. Silver was originally hired by his law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, with no expectation that he would work on cases or refer them to the firm, according to a federal criminal complaint; instead, one of the firm’s founding partners hoped that Mr. Silver would enhance its prestige, the complaint said.
Mr. Skelos also worked at a law firm, Ruskin Moscou Faltischek. A federal criminal complaint said it appeared that Mr. Skelos “did not perform any actual legal work,” but was paid in large part for referring clients to the firm and meeting with clients, “including about legislative matters.” Neither his firm nor Mr. Silver’s has been accused of wrongdoing.
Though there have been calls to restrict outside income, or even ban those jobs altogether, reforms passed in Albany in the past few years have instead focused on expanding what lawmakers must disclose about their jobs.
Mr. Flanagan, 54, has served in the State Legislature for nearly 30 years. He was 25 and in law school when his father, Assemblyman John Flanagan Sr., died of a heart attack in 1986. The younger Mr. Flanagan decided to run for his father’s seat, and won. Four years later, in 1990, he received his law degree from Touro Law Center on Long Island.
Around 15 years ago, at a different law firm, Mr. Flanagan listed his specialty as transportation law, according to his financial disclosure filings. He joined the Forchelli law firm in 2003, which was also the first year Mr. Flanagan served in the Senate. In his disclosure filings over the last decade, he has listed his specialty as land use and planning. The first sentence of his biography on the firm’s website, which has recently been removed, cited his elected office.
A review of public records and a client list from the firm’s website found numerous clients that have business before state government, like lobbying or obtaining government contracts. The firm’s clients have included Chase Bank, General Motors, HSBC, Northrop Grumman, Yum Brands, Vornado Realty Trust, Walgreens and the Long Island Gasoline Retailers Association.
Mr. Flanagan’s law firm was also one of more than two dozen employers of state legislators that were subpoenaed in 2013 by the Moreland Commission, an anticorruption panel created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat.
The panel, which was examining the outside income of lawmakers, sought documents regarding his clients and compensation, as well as building access records showing when he came to work, according to a copy of the subpoena his firm received.
The law firm joined with other firms employing legislators to challenge the subpoenas in court, and the matter was unresolved when Mr. Cuomo struck a deal last year to shut down the Moreland Commission.
Mr. Flanagan’s law firm job was not his only business activity in recent years. In 2007, a limited liability company, ASJ Consulting, was registered at Mr. Flanagan’s home address. On his disclosure filings, Mr. Flanagan listed his position as “director” and described the company as a “real estate consulting firm,” but little is known about what the company did.
Kelly Cummings, a spokeswoman for the senator, said that Mr. Flanagan had formed the company “to do real estate work” and that it had been inactive “for some time.” She declined to offer details.
Mr. Flanagan, who is married and has three children, listed no stocks, bonds or mutual funds in his disclosure filing covering 2013. Under liabilities, he listed a personal loan valued at $20,000 to $50,000, whose purpose was listed as college and home improvements.
Ms. Cummings said that the senator’s financial resources had been dedicated to paying for the college education of his children, and that the loan was given by a “close family friend.”