The Assembly Ethics Committee will review a complaint filed by the secretary of the Putnam County Democratic Committee about the marijuana possession charge against Assemblyman Steve Katz, R-Yorktown, Westchester County, the committee’s chairman said today.
Assembly Ethics Committee chairman Charles Lavine, D-Nassau County, said the committee has received a request for an investigation into Katz from Carol Meissner, who lives in Patterson and is secretary of the county Democratic committee.
Lavine said the ethics panel would review her complaint, which Meissner has also forwarded to the state Legislative Ethics Commission.
“We intend to look at the inquiry from Ms. Meissner,” Lavine told Gannett’s Albany Bureau. “It was an extraordinarily well written letter and very well reasoned. So I’ve had a chance to discuss it with our ranking member on the ethics committee and we will be having a meeting as soon as we wrap up the budget, and that’s one of the issues that we’ll discuss.”
In the letter sent March 20 obtained by Gannett, Meissner raises concerns about Katz’s ticket for marijuana possession on March 14, questioning whether he uses illegal drugs and whether he received preferential treatment when he stopped.
Katz was allegedly found with 1/8 of an ounce of marijuana after he was pulled over by State Police for speeding on the state Thruway apparently on his way to the Capitol at about 10 a.m. He was charged with unlawful possession of marijuana and speeding, police said.
He was scheduled to appear today in Town of Coeymans on the violations, but the hearing was rescheduled until April 25.
Lavine said Katz’s is presumed innocent, but that Meissner’s complaint warrants review by the ethics panel. He said he suggested she also file a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commission, a separate oversight body that may also have authority in the case.
“We certainly want to make sure that our colleague, Mr. Katz, is afforded the full presumption of innocence, and until such time as there actually is some sort of a finding, these remain allegations,” Lavine said. “And yet, we treat the inquiry from this particular constituent, Ms. Meissner, very seriously.”
It’s unclear what action, if any, the Assembly could take against Katz, who is in his second term. Katz’s spokesman, Joseph Ahearn, declined comment today, citing the ongoing criminal case.
Updated: Katz’s attorney, Susan Chana Lask, dismissed Meissner’s letter.
“It is unfortunate that Ms. Meissner’s letter has so many inaccuracies that it goes as far to improperly accuse the State Police of preferential treatment. That never occurred and Ms. Meisner was not present,” Lask said in an email. “Her assumptions are beyond the pale. She improperly uses media reports when anyone knows you cannot believe everything reported in the media. In fact, case law supports that news reports are not used proof of facts in a court of law. It is sad that the political party that Mr. Katz does not belong to has chosen to publicly allege events that never occurred in a letter that is more full of holes than Swiss cheese.”
In August, the committee ruled there was credible evidence that Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, had sexually harassed young female aides, leading to his censure and removal as Housing Committee chairman. Katz has harshly criticized Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, over the Lopez matter and a $103,000 settlement with Lopez’s accusers.
In 2007, the Ethics Committee investigated charges that Assemblyman Mike Cole, a Republican from the Buffalo area, had slept at the home of a young female intern. Cole was removed from his position on the Assembly Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse.
Katz sits on the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, and he receives a $9,000 stipend for serving as the ranking member on the Assembly Mental Health Committee. Lawmakers receive a base salary of $79,500.
Here’s the letter of complaint sent to Lavine:
Dear Assemblyman Lavine:
I am writing to you in your capacity as Chairman of the New York State Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance.
As you may be aware, State Assemblyman Steve Katz was stopped on the New York State Thruway on March 14, 2013, just south of Albany, for speeding.
Several news organizations throughout the state reported that the State Trooper who stopped Assemblyman Katz for traveling at 80 miles per hour in the 65 miles per hour zone, noted the odor of marijuana in the Assemblyman’s car. Though the reports are unclear about the exchange between the Trooper and the Assemblyman, all reported that
Assemblyman Katz, at some point, produced a bag of marijuana.
The reports indicate that upon receiving two appearance tickets requiring his presence in Coeymans Town Court on March 28, 2013, Assemblyman Katz was released.
Several of the news organizations reported that Assemblyman Katz was absent at the start of the Assembly’s legislative session. Some posted video clips of Assemblyman Katz debating a bill sponsored by Assembly member Linda Rosenthal that requires pain management training of medical professionals.
During the debate, Assemblyman Katz refers to Assemblywoman Rosenthal as “Assemblyman Rosenthal,” a bizarre circumstance that has left me wondering whether Assemblyman Katz was driving, speeding and debating under the influence of marijuana.
Did the Assemblyman leverage his position with a State Trooper to avoid having his car searched for the presence of more marijuana and maybe other illegal drugs as well? Was Assemblyman Katz driving a car with license plates that identified him as a member of the Assembly? Was Assemblyman Katz, who often and vociferously notes that he carries firearms, carrying loaded rifles or pistols while under the influence?
Assemblyman Katz has many times mailed, at taxpayers’ expense, flyers that boast he is keeping the conversation between constituents and himself “open and honest.” And yet, now that constituents deserve information regarding his conduct as our public official, there is no openness and there is no honesty. There is not even a conversation.
I am asking the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance to investigate Assemblyman Katz’s conduct as a Member of the Assembly.
Specifically, I would ask the Committee to investigate whether Assemblyman Katz:
1. Exploited his Assembly position to avoid a search of his person and vehicle that might have revealed additional illegal drugs, thereby avoiding a felony charge;
2. Used his Assembly issued license plates to secure preferred treatment from the State Police;
3. Was driving under the influence of marijuana and came to work under the influence;
4. Has had other instances of drugs in his possession while at work and/or in the presence of staff and other legislators; and
5. Attempted to carry out his responsibilities as Assemblyman while under the influence.
Since Assemblyman Katz has now cut off the “open and honest dialogue” he claims to have pursued with his constituents, I am hopeful that the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance can provide his constituents with the answers our Assemblyman has refused to provide. Thank you for your immediate attention to this important issue.
Patterson, NY 12563