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Thi s opi ni on i s uncor r ect ed and subj ect t o r evi si on bef or e
publ i cat i on i n t he New Yor k Repor t s.
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No. 59
I n t he Mat t er of Wor ki ng Fami l i es
Par t y,
Appel l ant ,
v.
Fer n A. Fi sher , &c. , et al . ,
Respondent s.
Avi Schi ck, f or appel l ant .
Lee A. Adl er st ei n, f or r espondent s Fer n A. Fi sher et
al .
Mor r i e Kl ei nbar t , f or r espondent Dani el M. Donovan, J r .
Di st r i ct At t or neys Associ at i on of t he St at e of New
Yor k, ami cus cur i ae.
PER CURI AM:
Thi s ar t i cl e 78 pr oceedi ng i n t he nat ur e of pr ohi bi t i on
was br ought t o chal l enge an or der r el i evi ng a di st r i ct at t or ney
at hi s own r equest , and appoi nt i ng a speci al di st r i ct at t or ney t o
conduct an i nvest i gat i on i n hi s pl ace. The Appel l at e Di vi si on
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di smi ssed t he pr oceedi ng on t he gr ound t hat pr ohi bi t i on was not
an appr opr i at e r emedy. We di sagr ee and r each t he mer i t s of t he
case, but we af f i r mt he Appel l at e Di vi si on' s di smi ssal because we
hol d t hat t he speci al pr osecut or was val i dl y appoi nt ed.
I
Dani el Donovan, t he Di st r i ct At t or ney of Ri chmond
Count y, appl i ed t o t he Deput y Chi ef Admi ni st r at i ve J udge f or t he
New Yor k Ci t y Cour t s ( DCAJ ) f or an or der r el i evi ng hi mand hi s
assi st ant s, and appoi nt i ng a speci al di st r i ct at t or ney, i n what
he descr i bed as " a case i nvol vi ng possi bl e vi ol at i ons" of
El ect i on Law § 14- 126 and ot her pr ovi si ons of l aw " i n connect i on
wi t h a 2009 Ci t y Counci l el ect i on on St at en I sl and. " An
af f i r mat i on cont ai ni ng t he f act s t hat Donovan t hought war r ant ed
t hi s act i on was submi t t ed under seal . The DCAJ gr ant ed t he
appl i cat i on and appoi nt ed Roger Bennet Adl er as speci al di st r i ct
at t or ney.
Appr oxi mat el y a year l at er , Adl er i ssued gr and j ur y
subpoenas t o t wo of f i ci al s of t he Wor ki ng Fami l i es Par t y
( pet i t i oner i n t hi s case) , and t o an ent i t y known as Ci t i zen
Act i on of New Yor k. Pet i t i oner br ought t hi s pr oceedi ng agai nst
t he DCAJ , seeki ng t o vacat e Adl er ' s appoi nt ment , quash t he
subpoenas and unseal Donovan' s appl i cat i on and t he document s
suppor t i ng i t . I t seems, t hough t he r ecor d i s sur pr i si ngl y
uncl ear , t hat Donovan and Adl er wer e al so made par t i es t o t he
pr oceedi ng; Donovan has par t i ci pat ed as a par t y, but Adl er has
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not . Donovan, wi t h t he per mi ssi on of t he Appel l at e Di vi si on,
submi t t ed opposi t i on paper s t o t hat cour t under seal and ser ved
on pet i t i oner onl y a copy of hi s Appel l at e Di vi si on br i ef f r om
whi ch t he f act s wer e l ar gel y r edact ed.
The Appel l at e Di vi si on deni ed t he pet i t i on and
di smi ssed t he pr oceedi ng. I t hel d t hat r el i ef by pr ohi bi t i on was
unavai l abl e because t he conduct t hat pet i t i oner was seeki ng t o
pr event was not " t he quasi - j udi ci al act of r epr esent i ng t he St at e
i n i t s ef f or t s t o br i ng i ndi vi dual s accused of cr i mes t o j ust i ce"
but r at her a " pur el y i nvest i gat i ve f unct i on" t hat was " execut i ve
i n nat ur e" ( Wor ki ng Fami l i es Par t y v Fi sher , 109 AD3d 478, 480
[ 2d Dept 2013] ) .
We gr ant ed l eave t o appeal . Af t er we di d so, Donovan
moved i n t hi s Cour t t o pr oceed as he had i n t he Appel l at e
Di vi si on, by f i l i ng a br i ef under seal and ser vi ng a r edact ed
copy of t he br i ef on pet i t i oner . We deni ed t he mot i on. Donovan
t hen chose t o f i l e a br i ef f r omwhi ch subst ant i al l y al l of t he
f act s t hat f or med t he basi s of hi s appl i cat i on f or a speci al
pr osecut or wer e omi t t ed. Those f act s ar e, however , i n t he r ecor d
bef or e us, whi ch r emai ns under seal . Pet i t i oner has not moved
her e, as i t di d i n t he Appel l at e Di vi si on, f or unseal i ng.
We now af f i r mt he Appel l at e Di vi si on' s j udgment , t hough
on gr ounds di f f er ent f r omt hose t he Appel l at e Di vi si on r el i ed on.
II
The Appel l at e Di vi si on er r ed i n hol di ng t hat an ar t i cl e
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78 pr oceedi ng i n t he nat ur e of pr ohi bi t i on i s an i nappr opr i at e
r emedy i n t hi s case. We r ecent l y r est at ed t he r ul e t hat
" pr ohi bi t i on i s an appr opr i at e r emedy t o voi d t he i mpr oper
appoi nt ment of a [ speci al ] pr osecut or when made by a cour t "
( Mat t er of Soar es v Her r i ck, 20 NY3d 139, 145 [ 2012] , quot i ng
Mat t er of Schumer v Hol t zman, 60 NY2d 46, 54 [ 1983] [ i nser t i on by
Soar es cour t ] ) . Whi l e t he power t o gr ant pr ohi bi t i on shoul d be
exer ci sed spar i ngl y, i t s avai l abi l i t y i n cases l i ke t hi s ser ves
an i mpor t ant pur pose. When t he val i di t y of t he appoi nt ment of a
pr osecut or i s i n quest i on, t he quest i on shoul d wher e possi bl e be
gi ven a pr ompt and def i ni t i ve answer . I t i s not i n t he publ i c
i nt er est t o al l ow a pr osecut or t o car r y out a l engt hy
i nvest i gat i on when t her e i s doubt t hat hi s or her appoi nt ment i s
val i d, and t o r un t he r i sk t hat t he pr ocess wi l l have t o st ar t
al l over agai n wi t h a di f f er ent pr osecut or .
Thi s case i l l ust r at es t he poi nt . Adl er was appoi nt ed
i n 2012 t o i nvest i gat e event s occur r i ng i n 2009. I f t he val i di t y
of hi s appoi nt ment i s not deci ded now, hi s i nvest i gat i on may
cont i nue f or many mor e mont hs or year s under a cl oud t hat wi l l
not be r emoved unt i l or unl ess he obt ai ns an i ndi ct ment , and t he
per son i ndi ct ed moves t o di smi ss i t on t he gr ound t hat Adl er was
never val i dl y appoi nt ed. That woul d be at best wast ef ul , and at
wor st coul d r esul t i n t he i nabi l i t y, f or st at ut e of l i mi t at i ons
or ot her r easons, t o pr osecut e cases t hat shoul d be pr osecut ed.
The Appel l at e Di vi si on based i t s concl usi on t hat
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pr ohi bi t i on was i nappr opr i at e her e on our deci si on i n Mat t er of
McGi nl ey v Hynes ( 51 NY2d 116 [ 1980] , cer t deni ed 450 US 918
[ 1981] ) . But McGi nl ey di d not i nvol ve a chal l enge t o t he
val i di t y of t he appoi nt ment of a speci al pr osecut or . I t was
br ought t o pr event a val i dl y appoi nt ed speci al pr osecut or f r om
submi t t i ng addi t i onal evi dence t o a gr and j ur y wi t hout cour t
per mi ssi on. We hel d pr ohi bi t i on unavai l abl e, but speci f i cal l y
l i mi t ed our hol di ng t o a case i n whi ch " t her e i s no cl ai mt hat
t he subj ect mat t er of [ t he speci al pr osecut or ' s] i nvest i gat i on i s
beyond t he scope of hi s pr osecut or i al aut hor i t y" ( i d. at 119) .
Her e, pet i t i oner ' s cl ai mi s t hat Adl er has no val i d
" pr osecut or i al aut hor i t y" at al l . Thi s pr oceedi ng i s a pr oper
vehi cl e f or deci di ng t he mer i t s of t hat cl ai m.
III
Count y Law § 701 ( 1) says, i n r el evant par t :
" Whenever t he di st r i ct at t or ney of any count y
and such assi st ant s as he or she may have . .
. ar e di squal i f i ed f r omact i ng i n a
par t i cul ar case t o di schar ge hi s or her
dut i es at a t er mof any cour t , a super i or
cr i mi nal cour t i n t he count y wher ei n t he
act i on i s t r i abl e may, by or der :
" ( a) appoi nt some at t or ney at l aw havi ng an
of f i ce i n or r esi di ng i n t he count y, or any
adj oi ni ng count y, t o act as speci al di st r i ct
at t or ney dur i ng t he absence, i nabi l i t y or
di squal i f i cat i on of t he di st r i ct at t or ney and
such assi st ant s as he or she may have. "
The pr i nci pal quest i on i n t hi s appeal i s whet her Donovan and hi s
subor di nat es i n t he Ri chmond Count y Di st r i ct At t or ney' s of f i ce
ar e " di squal i f i ed f r omact i ng" , wi t hi n t he meani ng of t hi s
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st at ut e, i n t he mat t er t hat Adl er was appoi nt ed t o i nvest i gat e.
Whi l e we have sever al t i mes consi der ed cases i n whi ch
par t i es adver se t o a di st r i ct at t or ney have ar gued t hat he or hi s
of f i ce shoul d be di squal i f i ed ( see Peopl e v Adams, 20 NY3d 608
[ 2013] ; Soar es, 20 NY3d 139; Peopl e v Shi nkl e, 51 NY2d 417
[ 1980] ; Peopl e v Zi mmer , 51 NY2d 390 [ 1980] ) , t hi s case i s
appar ent l y t he f i r st we have conf r ont ed i n whi ch a di st r i ct
at t or ney sought hi s or her own di squal i f i cat i on ( cf . Mat t er of
Schumer v Hol t zman, 60 NY2d at 49 [ di st r i ct at t or ney sought t o
appoi nt a " speci al pr osecut or " by wr i t t en agr eement ; adver se
par t y sought t o di squal i f y t he di st r i ct at t or ney] ) . The par t i es
bef or e us t ake opposi t e posi t i ons as t o t he st andar d t o be
appl i ed i n deci di ng such a case. Pet i t i oner , ar gui ng t hat
Donovan i s not di squal i f i ed, says t hat we shoul d adher e t o t he
demandi ng st andar d used i n cases wher e di squal i f i cat i on i s sought
by an adver se par t y. I n such a case, t he gener al r ul e r equi r es a
showi ng of " act ual pr ej udi ce ar i si ng f r oma demonst r at ed conf l i ct
of i nt er est or a subst ant i al r i sk of an abuse of conf i dence"
( Adams, 20 NY3d at 612, quot i ng Schumer , 60 NY2d at 55) , t hough
" i n r ar e si t uat i ons, t he appear ance of i mpr opr i et y i t sel f i s a
gr ound f or di squal i f i cat i on" ( i d. ) . Donovan, by cont r ast , ar gues
i n subst ance t hat a di st r i ct at t or ney and hi s of f i ce ar e
" di squal i f i ed" i f t he di st r i ct at t or ney hi msel f so deci des. A
di st r i ct at t or ney' s deci si on t o r ecuse hi msel f shoul d, i n
Donovan' s vi ew, be unr evi ewabl e.
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We r ej ect bot h of t hese ar gument s. To al l ow a di st r i ct
at t or ney t o di squal i f y hi msel f and hi s of f i ce i n hi s sol e
di scr et i on woul d val ue t oo l i ght l y t he publ i c i nt er est i n havi ng
pr osecut or i al dut i es per f or med, wher e possi bl e, by t he
" const i t ut i onal of f i cer chosen by t he el ect or at e" ( Schumer , 60
NY2d at 55) . But t he st andar ds t hat appl y i n cases wher e a
di st r i ct at t or ney opposes hi s own di squal i f i cat i on and t hose i n
whi ch he seeks i t ar e not t he same. Wher e t her e i s l egi t i mat e
doubt as t o whet her a di st r i ct at t or ney and hi s of f i ce may
pr oceed wi t h a case, t he di st r i ct at t or ney i s not bar r ed f r om
r esol vi ng t hat doubt by choosi ng t o st ep asi de. We have al r eady
ment i oned t hat i t i s desi r abl e f or al l concer ned t o know, as
pr ompt l y as possi bl e, whet her t he per son i nvest i gat i ng or
pr osecut i ng a case i s l awf ul l y ent i t l ed t o do so. That i nt er est
i s ser ved by al l owi ng a di st r i ct at t or ney who has gr ound f or
t hi nki ng t hat he and hi s of f i ce may be di squal i f i ed t o seek t he
appoi nt ment of a speci al pr osecut or . Thus we agr ee wi t h t he
cour t i n Peopl e v Schr ager ( 74 Mi sc 2d 833, 834 [ Sup Ct Queens
Count y 1973] ) t hat a di st r i ct at t or ney seeki ng t o di squal i f y
hi msel f or her sel f may do so upon " a good f ai t h appl i cat i on
cont ai ni ng t he r easonabl e gr ounds f or hi s bel i ef t hat he i s so
di squal i f i ed. "
Upon exami nat i on of t he r ecor d ( whi ch, wi t h t he
acqui escence of al l par t i es, r emai ns seal ed) we ar e sat i sf i ed
t hat Donovan had a good f ai t h, r easonabl e basi s f or hi s vi ew t hat
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he i s di squal i f i ed f r ompur sui ng t he i nvest i gat i on wi t hi n t he
meani ng of Count y Law § 701 ( 1) .
IV
Pet i t i oner al so ar gues t hat Adl er ' s appoi nt ment shoul d
be set asi de because t he pr oper pr ocedur es wer e not f ol l owed i n
maki ng t hat appoi nt ment . Whi l e t he pr ocedur e was f l awed, we do
not f i nd t hat t he f l aws war r ant nul l i f yi ng t he appoi nt ment .
Sect i on 200. 15 of t he Uni f or mRul es f or t he New Yor k
St at e Tr i al Cour t s says:
" Any par t y f i l i ng wi t h a super i or cour t an
appl i cat i on f or appoi nt ment of a speci al
di st r i ct at t or ney, pur suant t o sect i on 701 of
t he Count y Law, shal l make t he appl i cat i on t o
t he Chi ef Admi ni st r at or of t he Cour t s. The
Chi ef Admi ni st r at or , i n consul t at i on and
agr eement wi t h t he Pr esi di ng J ust i ce of t he
appr opr i at e Appel l at e Di vi si on, t hen shal l
desi gnat e a super i or cour t j udge t o consi der
t he appl i cat i on as pr ovi ded by l aw. "
I t i s not cont est ed t hat , under t hi s r ul e, Donovan
pr oper l y appl i ed t o t he DCAJ f or appoi nt ment of a speci al
di st r i ct at t or ney ( see J udi ci ar y Law § 210 [ 3] ; 22 NYCRR 80. 1 [ b]
[ 4] , 80. 2 [ a] ) . Pet i t i oner ar gues, however , t hat t he r ul e does
not empower t he DCAJ si mpl y t o appoi nt t he speci al pr osecut or
her sel f , as she di d her e. Rat her , she must , af t er " consul t at i on
and agr eement wi t h" t he Pr esi di ng J ust i ce, appoi nt " a super i or
cour t j udge t o consi der t he appl i cat i on. " The DCAJ r esponds t hat
she compl i ed wi t h t he r ul e by i n ef f ect appoi nt i ng her sel f , an
el ect ed Supr eme Cour t J ust i ce and t hus " a super i or cour t j udge, "
t o deci de whet her t o appoi nt a speci al pr osecut or and whomt o
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appoi nt .
We agr ee wi t h pet i t i oner t hat t he r ul e shoul d have been
- - as we t r ust i n f ut ur e cases i t wi l l be - - mor e met i cul ousl y
f ol l owed. Whi l e t he DCAJ was f r ee t o appoi nt her sel f , she shoul d
have document ed i n a separ at e or der t he f act t hat she di d so, not
si mpl y pr oceeded t o t he appoi nt ment of Adl er as Speci al
Pr osecut or . She shoul d al so have consul t ed wi t h, and obt ai ned
t he appr oval of , t he Pr esi di ng J ust i ce of t he Appel l at e Di vi si on,
and shoul d have r eci t ed i n her or der t hat she had done so.
We do not bel i eve, however , t hat t hese i r r egul ar i t i es
j ust i f y nul l i f yi ng Adl er ' s appoi nt ment and cr eat i ng t he
undesi r abl e si t uat i on, of whi ch we have al r eady spoken t wi ce i n
t hi s opi ni on, of an i nvest i gat i on t hat goes on f or year s and t hen
i s f or ced t o r et ur n t o squar e one. Nei t her pet i t i oner nor anyone
el se coul d possi bl y cl ai mt o be pr ej udi ced by t he f act t hat t he
DCAJ si gned one document when she shoul d have si gned t wo. Nor
does t he absence of any r ecor d of t he consul t at i on and agr eement
wi t h t he Pr esi di ng J ust i ce seema maj or def ect her e. The
appar ent pur pose of r equi r i ng such consul t at i on i s t o be sur e
t hat t he j udge chosen by t he DCAJ i s, i n t he opi ni on of t he
Pr esi di ng J ust i ce, avai l abl e and sui t abl e f or t he t ask. I n a
case wher e t he DCAJ chooses t o appoi nt her sel f , consul t at i on wi t h
t he Pr esi di ng J ust i ce may be of secondar y i mpor t ance.
Accor di ngl y, t he j udgment of t he Appel l at e Di vi si on
shoul d be af f i r med, wi t h cost s.
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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
J udgment af f i r med, wi t h cost s. Opi ni on Per Cur i am. J udges
Gr af f eo, Read, Smi t h, Pi got t , Ri ver a and Abdus- Sal aamconcur .
Chi ef J udge Li ppman t ook no par t .
Deci ded J une 10, 2014
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