“#Critics question de Blasio’s impartiality over lawyer chosen to review NYC protests”
June 12, 2020 | 1:53pm
New York City Corporation Counsel James Johnson was appointed last month, along with Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett, to examine the NYPD’s handling of citywide protests spurred by Floyd’s caught-on-video killing by a Minneapolis cop who kept his knee pressed down on his neck.
Johnson oversees the city’s Law Department, which represents city agencies and employees — including the NYPD — in civil litigation, posing a potential conflict of interest.
At his daily press briefing Friday, de Blasio brushed off criticism of his choice of Johnson, calling him “powerfully suited for this role” and saying that he trusts him to not bring his day job’s bias to the post — so New Yorkers should, too.
“I’m just convinced knowing Jim Johnson, knowing his history, understanding what he brings to the table,” the mayor said. “The conflict exists if there’s any desire not to portray the truth and act on it.”
De Blasio later criticized a journalist for asking a follow-up question about the potential conflict of interest — and suggested the average New Yorker just doesn’t care about the issue.
“I think it is inherent to the media persona and the people in the media to ask those kinds of questions,” the mayor said derisively. “I respectfully submit that I don’t think it’s how everyday New Yorkers think.”
Johnson, 59, worked as a Manhattan federal prosecutor and held several positions in the US Department of Treasury, including Under Secretary for Enforcement under President Bill Clinton, according to his online bio.
He also ran for governor of New Jersey, his home state, in 2017 as a Democrat and most recently worked as special counsel to Gov. Phil Murphy focusing on Atlantic City.
Johnson was appointed as the Corporation Counsel — a $243,000-a-year post that oversees more than 70,000 legal matters a year — in October.
The NYPD’s Office of the Inspector General is also taking part in the review by Garnett and Johnson. A preliminary report is expected July 4.
“At times the agencies or employees that we represent may be adverse to each other,” said Law Department spokesman Nicholas Paolucci. “To ensure fairness and to adhere to a high standard of ethics, we put in place ethical walls to makes sure we can proceed with integrity.
“In this case, we have not only put in place ethical walls between the Corporation Counsel and any cases arising out of the events under review, but all factual investigation is being done by the DOI pursuant to its authority under the Charter.”
In a June 1 letter to city council members, Garnett also defended Johnson, saying he’s able to carry out a fair investigation.
“As it relates to the Corporation Counsel, it is my independent and professional judgment that the best way to conduct this investigation expeditiously, and get New Yorkers the answers they deserve, is to welcome his partnership rather than exclude him,” she wrote.
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