Health

Groping charge against Cuomo is dismissed

The
charge was dismissed during a virtual arraignment in Albany City Court that
lasted just seven minutes. Cuomo’s personal lawyer briefly shifted the camera
during the appearance, offering a secondslong glimpse of Cuomo, who wore a
black mask and a dark suit with a blue tie.

Cuomo
was not to be seen again as Judge Holly Trexler exchanged some words with his
lawyers and the prosecutors and, as expected, granted their request to drop the
sex crime charge against the former governor.

The
mostly perfunctory appearance brought to a close one of the most serious legal
threats Cuomo had faced over allegations involving his treatment of women,
which led to his resignation just four months ago.

In
practice, his scheduled court appearance was the last procedural step necessary
for prosecutors to drop the charge against Cuomo after the Albany County
district attorney announced Tuesday that he would not pursue the case.

The
district attorney had said that while he was troubled by the allegations and
had found the former aide, Brittany Commisso, to be credible, it would be too
difficult to prove a criminal case.

But
the arraignment of Cuomo, a Democrat who held outsize sway in Albany, New York,
for over a decade, made for a remarkable sight.

It
was his first public appearance since he stepped down in August. He had lain
low for months, occasionally popping up in emails to supporters or in pictures
posted on social media — celebrating his birthday with his daughter; fishing
with his dog, Captain.

Though
most of the New York political class has turned the page on Cuomo after a
string of scandals tarnished his reputation, he has reached out to some of his
remaining allies in recent weeks. They were left with the impression that he
was interested in mounting a return to public life, however unlikely or far-off
that possibility remains.

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On
Friday, he had to appear in court — if only virtually, because of the ongoing
pandemic. Trexler, who had compelled him to appear, said at the onset of the
appearance: “This is the matter of the People of the State of New York versus
Andrew Cuomo.”

Trexler
read from her notes: “The court is acutely aware of the fact that the district
attorney’s office has unfettered discretion to determine whether to prosecute a
particular suspect or case,” she said.

She
said that she had reviewed the motions from Cuomo’s lawyers, as well as
prosecutors, who had to overcome audio issues. Then she declared that the
complaint was dismissed.

Shortly
after, Rita Glavin, Cuomo’s lawyer, issued a brief statement. “Today, reason
and the rule of law prevailed,” she said. “Not politics, rhetoric or mob
mentality.”

A lawyer
for Commisso did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The
misdemeanor charge for forcible touching that Cuomo faced carried a penalty of
up to one year in jail. Prosecutors in two other counties recently closed
investigations into him, significantly diminishing the likelihood that he would
be found criminally culpable for his behavior toward women.

Cuomo
has vehemently denied that he ever touched Commisso inappropriately, and he has
argued that many of the allegations of sexual harassment he faces from other
women were the result of misunderstandings or the changing of social norms, not
inappropriate sexual advances on his part.

The
details of Commisso’s account were part of a 165-page report from the state
attorney general that concluded Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women.

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Commisso,
a former executive assistant, has said that Cuomo, after months of escalating
flirtatious behavior, groped her breast while the two were alone in his private
residence in December 2020.

Shortly
after he resigned, Commisso filed a complaint with the Albany County sheriff’s
office, which further investigated her accusation and charged Cuomo in late
October.

But
in an unusual move, especially for a high-profile case, the sheriff, Craig D
Apple, brought the charge without consulting with the Albany County district
attorney, David Soares, who would have had to try the case in court.

Soares
said that the complaint Apple filed was “potentially defective.” After Soares’
office concluded its own investigation, he announced this week that prosecutors
would not prosecute Cuomo, although he found Commisso believable. “After review
of all the available evidence,” he said, “we have concluded that we cannot meet
our burden at trial.”

His
decision underscored the difficulties of trying sexual misconduct cases in
criminal court. Prosecutors would have had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt
that the crime took place, the highest standard in the legal system, while
relying heavily on Commisso’s testimony.

Earlier
this week, Commisso expressed dismay with Soares’ decision to drop the case,
telling the Times Union of Albany that it “yet again sadly highlights the
reason victims are afraid to come forward, especially against people in power.”

On
Friday, Richard Azzopardi, the former governor’s spokesman, reiterated Cuomo’s
contention that the allegations against him amounted to a “political
manipulation.”

“For
the last several weeks, we have remained silent while the process played itself
out — do not confuse our respect for the justice system with acquiescence,”
Azzopardi said. “Stay tuned.”

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