- Associated Press - Thursday, June 4, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legal counsel is collecting 61 state agencies’ data and comments about lawsuits and complaints they get, cases deemed highly sensitive or routine, and whether they handle the cases in-house, by contract lawyers or through the Attorney General’s Office.

Counsel Alphonso David said Thursday the state faces tens of thousands of cases, with no standard playbook. He said the office is looking for efficiencies, issues that might be similar among agencies and ways to save money.

His staff is just beginning to process responses from the agencies, David said.

Three questionnaires ask how the agencies track and manage cases, identify priorities, communicate with the attorney general’s lawyers, decide to notify their commissioners or the governor’s office and how often they settle or litigate.

“One of the first things you want to do is a realistic assessment of where the risks are,” David said.

The 22 questions about case handling by the attorney general, the state’s top lawyer, were first reported Wednesday by the New York Times. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, which has hundreds of lawyers and usually defends the executive branch in lawsuits, declined to comment Thursday.

Questions included whether the agencies get adequate time to provide feedback, how sensitive cases are flagged and what happens when the attorney general’s office has a different legal theory than an agency wants to pursue.

Twenty-seven questions about hiring outside counsel included the circumstances for contracting to pay those lawyers, how they’re selected and evaluated, the contracts used, existing guidelines, and decisions whether the agencies can handle matters with their own in-house lawyers and staff.

David was named to the post in early April, when the counsel’s office queried the attorney general’s office about its case management, data and communications, as well as its system for tracking the most complicated and sensitive cases. Responses from the agencies were due May 25 in what he said was intended to be an internal process working with their lawyer.

The state Budget Division forecast spending $156 million for settling lawsuits in the fiscal year that ended in March, though the actual total was lower at $126 million, spokesman Morris Peters said. For this year, the division is forecasting $138 million.

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