SUNY Buffalo Law dean appointed to help root out legislative corruption

Published July 3, 2013

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s newly appointed investigative body, charged with examining the state Board of Elections and looking at potential wrongdoing by legislators in campaign fundraising, will include Dean Makau W. Mutua of SUNY Buffalo Law School.

The committee, established by an executive order under New York’s anti-corruption Moreland Act, will have subpoena power as it conducts its work. Similar panels in past decades have resulted in lengthy corruption probes and arrests.

Cuomo issued his order after his proposed legislative reforms failed to gain traction in the state Legislature, and following the filing of federal bribery and embezzlement charges against several state lawmakers.

“This Commission will restore trust by telling the truth,” the governor said Wednesday at SUNY Buffalo Law School in detailing the commission’s work and Mutua’s appointment. “If this government has something to hide, this is Commission will find it.

“The government is not the enemy, the government is us. And together we can do great things.”

The 25-member Commission to Investigate Public Corruption, with the input of five “special advisers,” will be chaired by Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, Syracuse District Attorney William Fitzpatrick and attorney Milton Williams. It includes 10 sitting district attorneys and a former U.S. Attorney.

The panel will investigate the Board of Elections to ensure compliance with campaign finance laws. It also will probe weaknesses in state lobbying and ethics laws that open the door to bribery and other corruption. The commission is required to file a preliminary report by the end of the year and a final report by the end of 2014.

In addition to Dean Mutua, the governor named to the panel Frank A. Sedita III, Erie County district attorney and a 1986 graduate of SUNY Buffalo Law.

“You have legendary law enforcement talent on this commission, and this is a powerful, powerful signal,” Cuomo said Tuesday in announcing the move. “It sends a signal to two audiences. One are the elected officials in the state of New York. We’re going to raise the bar on public integrity, public trust. And second, to the people of the state. I want to say to the people, look, we have the best people watching.”

Mutua has been the Law School’s permanent dean since May 2008, after serving for an academic year as interim dean. A member of the Law School faculty since 1996, he is a SUNY Distinguished Professor and since 2006 has served as the Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar.

Widely known on the international stage, he has conducted numerous human rights, diplomatic and rule of law missions to countries in Africa, Latin America and Europe. Mutua is a vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. From 2002 to 2003, he chaired the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission, which recommended a truth commission for his native Kenya.