Saturday, May 3, 2008

Group calls for court inquiry of City Council scandal

Saturday, May 3rd 2008, 4:00 AM

A civil rights lawyer and a group of taxpayers dusted off a legal move from the Boss Tweed era Friday to push for a public airing of the City Council's slush-fund scandal.

The maneuver could force Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg to testify about the budget shenanigans in open court - along with former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Speakers Gifford Miller and Peter Vallone Sr.

The legal action filed in Manhattan Supreme Court seeks to convene a "summary judicial inquiry" based on an 1873 provision of the City Charter intended to combat Tammany Hall political corruption and misconduct.

It seeks to force a public, under-oath judicial inquiry into the creation of fictitious budget accounts in which the Council stashed some $17 million in funds since 2001.

The funds - known as member items, or "pork" - were later awarded to favored nonprofit groups at the behest of the Council speakers. In a growing federal probe, two Council aides have been indicted for allegedly embezzling $145,000 in member-item funds.

The papers were filed Friday by Norman Siegel, former director of the New York Civil Liberties Union and 2005 candidate for public advocate. Eight city taxpayers are named as petitioners, including City Hall gadfly Rafael Martinez Alequin.

The filing invokes Section 1109 of the City Charter as "a unique mechanism for lifting the veil of secrecy that surrounds intricate political dealings regarding discretionary allocations of public funds."

Siegel said the court action seeks only a judicial "public airing of the facts."

Quinn said the request "serves no purpose," and added, "We therefore question the motives of this lawsuit and suspect it could be motivated by the desire for cheap publicity."

There was no immediate comment from the mayor.

A hearing has been scheduled for May 29 before Justice Marilyn Shafer, at which the Council and Quinn could argue against holding the inquiry.

The inquiry would seek to determine if Quinn "violated or neglected her duty" by failing to make sure that budget allocations and documents were properly executed, the filing says.

Quinn has denied knowing that budget funds had been "parked" until late fall. She said she made the discovery after she hired a law firm to assist in compiling documents related to the federal investigation that later led to indictments of two aides to Councilman Kendall Stewart (D-Brooklyn).

Quinn said earlier this week she was not a target of the federal investigation.

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