A judge Friday dismissed charges against former New York governor Andrew M. Cuomo who accused him of groping a former employee at the Executive Mansion in late 2020.
The charges were dismissed during a virtual arraignment in Albany court that lasted just seven minutes. The personal lawyer of Mr. Cuomo moved the camera momentarily during the apparition and caught a second glimpse of Mr. Cuomo, who wore a black mask and dark suit with a blue tie.
Mr. Cuomo was gone when Judge Holly Trexler exchanged a few words with his attorneys and the prosecutors and, as expected, granted their request to drop the sex offense charges against the former governor.
The mostly perfunctory appearance put an end to one of the most serious legal threats Mr Cuomo had faced over allegations related to his treatment of women, which led to his resignation just four months ago.
In practice, his scheduled appearance in court was the final procedural step needed for prosecutors to drop charges against Mr. Cuomo after the Albany County District Attorney announced Tuesday that he would not pursue the case.
The prosecutor had said that while he was troubled by the charges and found the former assistant, Brittany Commisso, credible, it would be too difficult to prove a criminal case.
But the arraignment of Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat who reigned supreme in Albany for more than a decade, made for a remarkable sight.
It was his first public appearance since he stepped down in August. He had been quiet for months, occasionally appearing in emails to supporters or in photos on social media – celebrating his birthday with his daughter, fishing with his dog, Captain.
While most of the New York political class has turned the page on Mr. Cuomo after a string of scandals tarnished his reputation, he has been in touch with some of his remaining allies in recent weeks. They got the impression that he was interested in a return to public life, however unlikely or distant that possibility remains.
He had to appear in court on Friday – if only virtually, because of the ongoing pandemic. Judge Trexler, who had forced him to appear, said at the beginning of the appearance, “This is the matter of the people of New York State versus Andrew Cuomo.”
Judge Trexler read from her notes: “The court is well aware that the district attorney’s office has unrestricted discretion in determining whether to prosecute a particular suspect or case,” she said.
She said she had reviewed the motions of Mr. Cuomo’s attorneys, as well as the prosecutors, who were tasked with resolving audio issues. She then stated that the complaint had been rejected.
Shortly thereafter, Rita Glavin, Mr. Cuomo’s attorney, made a brief statement. “Today reason and the rule of law prevailed,” she said. “No politics, rhetoric or mafia mentality.”
A lawyer for Ms Commisso did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The assault charge against Mr. Cuomo faced a maximum jail term of one year. Prosecutors in two other provinces recently closed their investigations into him, significantly reducing the chances of him being held criminally liable for his conduct toward women.
Mr Cuomo has vehemently denied ever touching Ms Commisso inappropriately, arguing that many of the allegations of sexual harassment he faces from other women were the result of misunderstanding or the change in social norms, and not of inappropriate sexual advances on his part.
The details of Ms. Commisso’s report were part of a 165-page report by the state’s attorney general which concluded that Mr Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women.
The Downfall of Andrew Cuomo
The road to resignation. After receiving national praise for his leadership in the early days of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faced several scandals that eventually led to his resignation on August 10, 2021. Here’s what you need to know about his political demise:
Ms Commisso, a former executive assistant, has said that, after months of escalating flirtatious behavior, Mr Cuomo groped her chest while the two were alone at his private residence in December 2020.
Shortly after he resigned, Ms. Commisso filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, which further investigated her allegation and charged Mr. Cuomo in late October.
But in an unusual move, especially for a high-profile case, the sheriff, Craig D. Apple, brought the charges without consulting Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who should have tried the case in court.
Mr Soares said the complaint filed by Sheriff Apple was “possibly defective”. After Mr. Soares’s office completed its own investigation, he announced this week that prosecutors would not prosecute Cuomo, although he found Ms Commisso credible. “After examining all the available evidence,” he said, “we have concluded that we cannot bear our burden during the trial.”
His decision underscored the difficulties of adjudicating sexual misconduct cases in criminal courts. Prosecutors would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime took place, the highest standard in the justice system, while relying heavily on Ms Commisso’s testimony.
Earlier this week, Mrs. Commisso expressed her dismay at Mr Soares’ decision to drop the case, telling the Times Union of Albany that it “sadly highlights once again the reason victims are afraid to come forward, especially against those in power.” .”
On Friday, Richard Azzopardi, the former governor’s spokesman, reiterated Cuomo’s claim that the charges against him amounted to “political manipulation”.
“For the past few weeks we have been silent as the trial unfolded – don’t confuse our respect for the justice system with resignation,” said Mr Azzopardi. “Stay tuned.”
Jonah E. Bromwich reporting contributed.