This morning, lawyers argued in a court in Brooklyn over whether Richard Ravitch should be allowed to serve as lieutenant governor.
A four-justice panel in the appellate division of the state Supreme Court peppered both sides with questions as to what the harm would be—for the governor, the State Senate, and the public—if Ravitch acted as lieutenant governor in the three weeks before his appeal is argued on Aug. 18.
Kathleen Sullivan, representing Ravitch and Governor David Paterson, insisted that Ravitch would not set foot on the floor of the State Senate until the appeals court ruled on his appointment, but argued that the ongoing fiscal crisis has left the state in “dire circumstances,” which Ravitch could help alleviate—if he’s allowed to maintain his post. Asked to cite the harm if he was not allowed to serve over the next three weeks, Sullivan said, “Lieutenant Governor Ravitch won’t be able to go to Albany, roll up his sleeves and get to work” helping the governor.
“He could do that as a private citizen,” replied Justice Thomas Dickerson, who conceded he accepted Ravitch as a “hero,” but also suggested the would-be lieutenant governor could serve in a special position created by the governor.
John Ciampoli, a Republican lawyer who is representing Senator Pedro Espada Jr., the Democratic majority leader who is currently caucusing with the Democrats, called his client “an architect of the leadership resolution” and said “his vote would be wiped out by this appointment.” Ciampoli argued that the assurance from Paterson that Ravitch would not preside over the Senate was not enough.
“The governor doesn’t control the lieutenant governor,” he told the court, noting that Ravitch has never pledged to stay out off the Senate floor.
Sullivan replied that her clients would welcome a court order allowing Ravitch to serve, while stating he could not preside over the Senate in the interim.
David Lewis, representing Senator Dean Skelos, the leader of the minority Republicans, argued that since the Senate had resolved its stalemate, Ravitch’s appointment would inject a new confusion into the line of succession.
“This was done to do something about the Senate,” he argued. “The Senate solved itself.”
Justice Steven Fisher pressed Lewis about the possibility of another stalemate. When Lewis replied that the justice shouldn’t assume another such struggle based on a single instance, Fisher suggested Lewis might have said the same thing before the coup.
“I would never have argued [that],” Lewis said, saying he had worked in Albany too long to make such a claim.
The justices occasionally wandered beyond the narrow question of the next three weeks. Justice Fisher worried that, absent any need for confirmation from the Legislature, a governor might appoint someone undesirable.
“Suppose he says the most persuasive guy around is Bernie Madoff, I’m going to appoint Bernie Madoff,” before suggesting that he would also be free to choose David Berkowitz, with the potential for Governor Madoff or Governor Berkowitz.
Sullivan said there was a “political check,” and “the court of public opinion would never allow that to happen.”
The justices said they would rule soon. They lawyers said they had no idea what that means.