News & Politics

Opinion: Clearing the air on Randy Mastro

Here’s why one the city’s most experienced litigators should be its next corporation counsel

Randy Mastro

Randy Mastro Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival

According to local news reports, New York Mayor Eric Adams is considering appointing Randy Mastro as the next corporation counsel for the city of New York. Though not formally nominated, the reports have generated some criticism, which to one who served in that position in the administration of David Dinkins is uninformed, unwarranted, and extremely unfair, since prior to any nomination Mastro cannot effectively respond.

First, the corporation counsel leads the city Law Department, which now has over 800 attorneys working in ten different offices throughout the city, and one upstate in the city’s watershed. Leading the department requires an attorney of broad and extensive experience, commitment to the rule of law and demonstrable recognition of the importance of social justice. Though on occasion I disagreed with Mastro on policy issues, I believe that Mastro, one of the city`s most experienced litigators, is ideally suited to provide first-class representation to the city and its many agencies. The success or lack thereof of the Law Department affects every city resident every day.

Second, much of the criticism appears to derive from the unpopularity of some of Mastro`s clients over the years, such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, individuals who have asserted claims against the city, or more recently, his representation of Gov. Phil Murphy in the challenge to congestion pricing. Whether you agree with the merits of that challenge or not (and I definitely do NOT agree), it is a serious mistake to evaluate a lawyer based on the conduct or views of his or her clients. If that were the case, we could never attract criminal defense lawyers to judicial office. The simple truth is that in the complex world in which governmental bodies function, the city needs the best possible lawyer in that position. And whether it is Gov. Christie or Gov. Murphy, either of whom could hire any lawyer in the nation, both chose Mastro. 

Lastly, while a lawyer`s political views should not be determinative in evaluating their capacity to serve well, it should be noted that, unlike some of his more public clients, Mastro is a lifelong Democrat, who has headed such invaluable entities like the Citizens Union, where he led a successful First Amendment challenge to disclosure requirements that would have harmed non-profit organizations. Indeed, while leading Citizens Union, Mastro was highly critical of policies of the Trump administration, disavowing for example former President Trump`s remarks following the violence in Charlottesville and issuing a statement denouncing Trump’s attempt to extort from the Ukraine president political assistance on pain of losing critically needed military resources. And for many years, Mastro was vice-chair of the Legal Aid Society, for which he provided significant pro bono service.

I recognize the City Council’s important role in vetting candidates for the position of corporation counsel and understand that the importance of a searching inquiry to test any candidate's qualifications and commitment to leading the Law Department with integrity and with the recognition of the corporation counsel’s duty to warn the mayor as well as city agencies when policies or practices are not compliant with applicable law. Mastro should be given a fair opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to those principles.

In short, Mastro has not only virtually unmatched relevant experience, but he possesses the character and dedication to serve the people of the city with distinction. It is my understanding that the following have reached similar conclusions: former Corporation Counsel and U.S. Attorney Zachary Carter, former Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, former Presiding Justice of the First Department Rolando Acosta, and other leading members of the New York bar.