Public defender may have a case

To paraphrase the late Yogi Berra, it ain’t over for Kossover.

We refer to Ulster County public defender Andrew Kossover, whose resignation over department financial issues was announced last Friday afternoon by county executive Pat Ryan.

Ryan’s stated reason for accepting Kossover’s resignation was that over a period of six years the public defender had failed to apply for some $2.5 million in state-proferred grants to hire additional defenders for the office.

Reached at his New Paltz law office on Monday, Kossover had only three words to say on the subject:

“I have not resigned.”

I pressed, citing the exec’s announcement and the fact that county department heads, by charter, serve at the pleasure of the executive. If the executive is not pleased, for any reason, it’s over.

“I have not resigned,” he repeated, “and that’s all I can say for now.”

Further digging – some people call it investigative journalism- revealed some salient information about that $2.5 million in potential grants that may or not cause the dismissal of the county defender.

It seems that beginning in 2014, the state began offering the county some $400,000 a year in grants to hire public defenders in order to better balance the manpower discrepancy between Kossover’s office and the district attorney’s prosecutors. The latter typically had about five more full-time lawyers than the defender.

Kossover wouldn’t talk about that, but most any department head would welcome “free staffing” from the state. The Hein administration, according to reliable sources, took a different view.

There is in municipal government a thing called “legacy costs.” The state or the feds give out short-term grants to address pertinent issues. When the grants run out, it is left for the munies to either continue funding those programs at taxpayer expense or drop them.

The Hein administration chose to reject those state grants over a period of six years. Collectively, it added up to $2.5 million.

So how did Kossover, the advocate, wind up the fall-guy for decisions rendered at the highest level of county government? Incidentally, the state found eager, willing acceptance for the same staffing support by the incoming Ryan administration last year. We know this because Ryan mentions it in almost every other public appearance.

One can never rule out politics when politicians are working with large sums of money and, in this case, people’s careers and lives.

There were a few tells on this one. For openers, the press release was issued on a Friday afternoon, a sure sign the powers that be hoped for minimal exposure. In this case, it was the beginning of a holiday weekend where almost nobody would pay attention. The release also noted that the so-called discrepancy had been uncovered during preparation for the 2020 budget, late last year. So why did it take until the middle of February to make these things public?

After dropping his bomb, Ryan left it to underlings to respond to press inquiries. Deputy assistant Dan Torres told the Freeman he had nothing to say about the so-called resignation.

Hmm. Torres is a town councilman and deputy mayor in New Paltz. Kossover’s private practice is located there. New Paltz is a hot-bed of political intrigue and Torres is usually in the middle of it.

Ryan needs to walk this one back, get all the real facts and revisit this decision. He might also begin to question the information -and perhaps motives – from senior staff he counts on for objective, accurate input.