NYRA Seeking New General Counsel

Kenneth Handal, brought in to clean up corporation's reputation, surprised by move.

Less than a year after the New York Racing Association hired a veteran lawyer to help clean up its reputation in the wake of the betting takeout scandal, the now state-run racing corporation is formally moving to find a replacement for the expert in corporate ethics, compliance, and risk management.

NYRA officials, who now report to a board dominated by appointees named by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said March 29 that a nationwide search is on to name a permanent general counsel.

"NYRA is initiating a search for a permanent general counsel, which was planned last fall when the NYRA Reorganization Board was put in place," said David Smukler, NYRA's senior vice president for human resources and labor relations. NYRA declined to elaborate.

Only hours earlier, Kenneth Handal, the acting general counsel and chief ethics and compliance officer for NYRA, said he has heard nothing about him possibly leaving NYRA. "I love NYRA,'' he told The Blood-Horse.

The hiring of the respected attorney, as well as the elevation of Ellen McClain to the NYRA president’s office, angered Cuomo administration officials last year as bad timing because the state was already making moves to take over the running of NYRA. Also, the appointments, made by the former NYRA board, many of whom still serve on the new state-controlled board, came while a state probe was underway investigating the takeout episode.

The scandal, which caused former president Charles Hayward to lose his job, cost bettors millions of dollars when NYRAfor more than a yeardid not follow a law requiring it to drop takeout rates on exotic bets.

McClain is still in her job, though she has announced she is leaving soon.

The search for both a new president and general counsel serves as another indication of the Cuomo administration seeking to put its imprint on NYRA, which the governor said has been poorly run and overtaken by years of scandals. The state control of NYRA, pushed last year by Cuomo and authorized by the Legislature, is supposed to end in less than three years.

Handal, a University of Chicago law school graduate, was brought in as general counsel in 2004 to help clean up the operations and reputation of CA Technologies when it was known as Computer Associates. Prior to that post, he was associate general counsel and compliance officer for Altria, the conglomerate that owns Philip Morris, Kraft Foods, and Miller Beer.

A former partner in a prestigious law firm, Arnold & Porter, Handal is also a former prosecutor in the criminal division of the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Handal’s current contract with NYRA ends in May.