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Appellate court orders Soares to rehire fired aide

Appellate court orders Soares to rehire fired aide

Richard Arthur will be back at work Monday morning after a three-year hiatus from his job in the Alb

Richard Arthur will be back at work Monday morning after a three-year hiatus from his job in the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.

The dismissal of the one-time director of administration and longtime aide to District Attorney David Soares was unanimously overturned by the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court in a ruling issued Thursday. In restoring Arthur to his job, the judges also determined he is due back pay starting when he was fired in June 2009.

The judges found that Soares and the hearing officer he appointed to oversee termination proceedings against Arthur made a series of procedural missteps. Among them, the court found Soares failed to designate the hearing officer in writing and that the officer — the county’s commissioner of Social Services — neglected to detail the evidence relied upon to confirm Arthur’s firing.

Arthur was put on paid suspension in April 2009 after an audit by the county comptroller found that he had displayed a “total disregard for fiscal management” by keeping $351,000 in a petty cash account. The account, which was only supposed to have up to $5,000, was to fund restitution to victims from recent criminal cases.

Soares accused Arthur of delegating job responsibilities without authorization, failing to comply with a directive to resume those duties, misrepresenting his job duties in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, and mismanaging financial transactions, according to the five-page Appellate Court ruling authored by Justice Thomas Mecure. The hearing officer subsequently found Arthur guilty of the charges Soares lodged against him and recommended he be fired.

County officials are reviewing the ruling and are contemplating all available options, including reinstating the disciplinary charges against Arthur, who could be owed as much as $200,000 in back pay. County spokeswoman Mary Rozak said the court appears to have overturned Arthur’s dismissal on the basis of a technicality and that the county’s disciplinary action was “wholly proper and appropriate” given the facts in the case.

“This is not a question of whether the charges were proven or not proven,” she said. “But because there was no paperwork in the file, it was as if the hearing was never held.”

Richard Kohn, the lawyer who argued Arthur’s case, disagreed. He said Soares could have appointed a more knowledgeable hearing officer to the case, such as one of his assistant prosecutors.

“Instead, he picked the commissioner of social services,” he said.

Soares spokeswoman Heather Orth declined to comment, citing the ongoing case against Arthur.

Kohn claims his client was targeted by Soares because he was mulling a run for the state Assembly against incumbent Tim Gordon, a member of the Independence Party poised to run for re-election in 2008. At the time, Soares was courting the Independence Party for its endorsement and viewed Arthur as a liability, according to Kohn.

“It was our contention that these charges were brought out of vindictiveness because Richard Arthur was toying with the idea of running for the Assembly against an incumbent,” he said.

Kohn called his client’s dismissal a “thoroughly discredited political hatchet job” that was botched from start to finish. He disputed the audit that served as a basis for Arthur’s eventual termination.

“Nothing here was done right,” he said. “This whole thing was screwed up from the start.”

Arthur’s name also surfaced in the so-called Troopergate scandal, in which aides to former governor Eliot Spitzer and a former state police superintendent violated state ethics laws by plotting against former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The state Commission on Public Integrity released an email exchange between Arthur and a spokeswoman for Spitzer requesting that the governor’s press office review a news release announcing that Soares was clearing the administration of any criminal wrongdoing.

Kohn was unsure how much the county will ultimately owe his client, but he said Arthur will be returning to work next week.

“He’ll be in the office Monday morning.”

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