WASHINGTON – Gov. Eliot Spitzer is on his way out of office, but his lawyers are still arguing that a hostile Senate committee is trying to subpoena confidential executive branch documents to "harass and embarrass" his office.
The three subpoenas issued by the Republican-led committee are part of a "political operation" that had nothing to do with its duties and should be tossed out, attorney Dietrich Snell told a state Supreme Court judge on Thursday.
David Lewis, lawyer for the Senate Investigations Committee, countered that the subpoenas are in the public interest as the committee probes a scheme by Spitzer aides to embarrass his chief rival, Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno.
"We're not out on a frolic for the purpose of humiliating the governor," Lewis told Justice Richard Braun. "This hasn't come up because we decided to get the governor and the executive chamber. It came up because of their actions."
The committee investigation is one of several involving Spitzer aides who used state police to compile records on Bruno's use of state aircraft and state police drivers on trips that mixed meetings with lobbyists and Republican fundraisers.
The data on Bruno was made public after a newspaper requested it under the state's Freedom of Information Law. The release of the data was seen as an attempt to smear and embarrass Bruno.
Braun suggested that a delay of a week or so might be prudent, given Spitzer's resignation this week in a prostitution scandal and Lt. Gov. David Paterson's assumption of office next week. Lewis said he wasn't sure he had the authority to agree to a postponement; the arguments went ahead.
Lewis said during the arguments and outside court, "This is not about Governor Spitzer. This is about the power of the legislature to make inquiry when it learns about abuses by any (other government) branch member."
Snell said subpoenas for confidential documents from the governor's office offend the doctrine of the separation of powers. He told Braun that high levels of the executive branch must be able to communicate candidly about anything without fear that the exchanges will become public.
Snell said although the state attorney general and Albany district attorney investigated and found no crime had been committed, the committee has continued on its "fishing expedition," acting as "grand jury and grand inquisitor.'
Lewis said any uses of state resources and state money fall under the jurisdiction of the Legislature and the Senate committee had a right to investigate those uses.
While the arguments centered on the validity of the Senate committee's subpoenas, some of the subpoenas concern Darren Dopp, a former Spitzer aide involved in gathering the information on Bruno.
Dopp's lawyer, Michael Koenig, said his client would not give any materials to the committee without permission from the governor's office, and so far he not received any such permission.