An Opinion Piece by Charles P. Lickson,
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned. That might have been a surprise to some (because he fashions himself a fighter), but it was clear that if he hadn’t resigned he would have faced impeachment. The claims against him were quite serious. Eleven women alleged that the Governor had acted improperly – possibly criminally – in violation of workplace appropriateness (among other claims). The allegations, although investigated by New York State Attorney General and reported as true, were still allegations. They were not findings of law and fact by a court or jury.
Remembering Richard Nixon’s resignation from the U.S. Presidency, it is clear, in hindsight, that Nixon was trying to avoid upcoming legal proceedings. The thought being at the time, he would cut off those proceedings “at the pass”. In fact, the new President, Gerald Ford, issued a full pardon for past crimes. Ford did that ostensibly to minimize the continuing trauma to Americans because of the conduct of many members of the Nixon team. In so doing, he signed his own death knell from winning the next Presidential election.
We now know that Nixon would in all likelihood have been impeached and also could have faced almost certain conviction for a number of criminal statutes.
We know there are many people who choose resignation in hopes that will somehow satisfy the public’s desire for an end to formal legal proceedings even likely conviction.
I want to be clear, I am not forgiving conduct by Cuomo, Nixon and others who might have been found guilty of a variety of charges. They have chosen to resign rather than face an inevitable legal fight. But the lawyer in me (isn’t it true that once a lawyer, always a lawyer – even if no current law license is in effect), can’t help but consider due process in every proceeding of this type – especially when dealing with so called “public officials or officers”. Most resignations do not necessarily concede the truth of allegations.
Resignation often pre-empts the need for further action on the subject matter or the person allegedly involved. On occasion proceedings (civil or criminal) go forward anyway. We don’t know yet what will be done in the Cuomo matter.
While my heart may be with the victims of possible crimes (e.g. the women who were allegedly mistreated by Cuomo and all of us who witnessed the outrages and crimes of the Nixon period), we must also conclude that there is reason for the process of law. I have not researched the issue of how many public officials resign their office as a tactic to avoid upcoming legal process. Usually this is done out of fear that they might be found guilty (or civilly liable) if formal proceedings go forward.
A resignation, rather than a legal fight is certain to be seen by many as an admission of guilt. This is not necessarily so in all cases. In many matters getting the alleged wrongdoer out of office or a position where he/she could do harm, is itself a benefit of resignation. A legal fight could result in a finding of not guilty or not civilly liable. But, the harm may already be done by the alleged acts and the fact of resignation. As I was preparing my first book on ethics (ETHICS FOR GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, Crisp Publications, 1993) I could see that public employees at any level (federal, state. local) had to meet certain standards of conduct for “public employees”. While working on our upcoming book PRINCIPLED CHOICES (which is co-authored by my wife, Bryane), we can clearly see and write about the ethical responsibilities of all people at any personal or professional level.
One might say that resignation is an admission that allegations aimed at whomever –are true. My own opinion (as expressed here) is that resignation is not an admission (unless actually said), but is a process decision in the matter. It is a decision, that the accused person does not want to proceed to his/her due process rights for his/her own reasons (cost, emotional health, family, etc). .. and Sometimes, it is the best decision for all concerned.