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THE INDICTMENT of Assembly Speaker Melvin Miller does nothing to increase public confidence in state government at a time of crisis.

It is true that the charges against Miller and a former law partner have nothing to do with Miller's duties or position in the State Legislature. They involve alleged defrauding of clients in a New York City real estate scheme. It is also vital to remember that these are only charges. But Miller's leadership is weakened nonetheless.

Both he and his former law partner, Jay Adolf, say they did nothing wrong. Miller insists the case is "baseless and outrageous" and is based on statements of a liar and forger. He suggests that as a Democratic leader, he is being victimized by a Republican U.S. attorney's office.

It is in court that the validity of the indictment will be tested. But the charges are serious: felonies associated with fraud. So long as they stay unresolved, they will cast a shadow across Miller's reputation. They touch on profound ethical breaches that the public would rightly object to in any leader, whether they occurred in public or private life.

It is disappointing that a perverse sense of unreality about all this apparently infects the thinking of some in Albany.

Upon learning of the indictment, one GOP senator said he doubted it would have
a major effect on Miller's leadership "when you count the fact that he's the third of the last four speakers to be indicted."

The more the merrier? Now, there's a compelling reason for minimizing the accusations brought by a federal grand jury. Apparently the indictment of two past speakers, Republican Perry Duryea and Democrat Stanley Steingut, and the eventual dismissal of those charges should minimize the impact and seriousness of this one?

All we can say is this: If the indictment of Assembly speakers has grown into a tradition, it is one that New Yorkers would happily abandon.

Miller's indictment, moreover, means that two current leaders of the State Legislature are formally accused of crimes and facing trial.

Manfred Ohrenstein, leader of the State Senate's Democratic minority, is the other. State charges leveled against him three years ago were recently reduced, but he still faces trial for allegedly placing no-show workers on the public payroll. Whatever the impact of all this inside the Albany establishment, the insiders should not delude themselves that these indictments are not serious, that they do not rub raw the public irritation and cynicism about government and its leaders, that they do not undermine the persuasiveness of the leadership with state residents.

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