The late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo once famously said “I have no quarrel with people seeing me as a sinner.” Politicians can indeed survive as sinners, particularly repentant sinners. However, his son, Andrew Cuomo, the current New York governor, moved today from presumed sinner but presumed assaulter. He is facing eleven women, including a current staffer, who have accused him of extensive acts of sexual harassment and assault. Andrew Cuomo is looking at years of litigation, including depositions as not just a sinner but a virtual predator.
The most notable factual allegation was a trooper who said that Cuomo ran his hands over her body and that this assault was witnessed by another trooper. Other women gave testimony on Cuomo pressing women into relationships, creating a “toxic” environment for women, and attacking not just women but the investigators (which Attorney General Letitia James called “offensive”).
Putting aside the likelihood of impeachment proceedings, Cuomo is looking at immediate legal exposure. The most important disclosure is that a current staff member is one of the eleven alleged victims. That could be important in litigating these claims. Under federal law, the statute of limitations is three years. State periods are shorter but a current allegation can be used to incorporate other prior cases which might otherwise be barred by the statute of limitations.
Some of these allegations would constitute misdemeanor assault given allegations of Cuomo the breasts and butts of staffers. However, those offenses face the same problems of statutes of limitations even though one woman has filed a complaint with the Albany Police department. James specifically stated that her office views this matter as “closed” and the allegations as “civil” matters.
In addition to sexual harassment claims, women could bring tort actions over assault and infliction of emotional distress. There could also be claims over defamation after Cuomo effectively called from of these women liars by denying certain acts ever occurred. He has categorically denied the groping allegations despite the claim of James that it was witnessed. Once again, the viability of such actions will depend on the statute of limitations. Some of these torts could be alleged to have continued through his actions and statements in response to the controversy.
In his public response, Cuomo gave a foreshadowing of his defense as a type of serial kisser and hugger. He does not go all in with the Clintonesque “bimbo eruption” attack but he does paint accusers as politically motivated. He claims that this is a “generational” or “cultural” difference that has been weaponized by the “politics and bias” in this scandal. He even attacks the accusers as undermining real victims of sexual harassment. Cuomo quoted his father as saying “politics is an ugly business” but this is going to perfectly grotesque in the months to come.
The problem for his counsel is that Cuomo has now locked in this defense. His claim to have been engaging in his own effort form of sexual harassment therapy can be admissible. It is likely to be mocked by opposing counsel and some jurors are likely to find it repellent. Opposing counsel can now juxtapose his therapeutic claim against graphic claims of the groping of breasts and buttocks. I think that he just committed himself to a bench trial if he can get it.
The ongoing impeachment proceedings will now receive a record composed of eleven alleged victims, 179 interviews and 74,000 pieces of evidence. Notably, unlike what occurred in the truncated Trump impeachment (including the first snap impeachment in history), Cuomo will receive a thorough and complete impeachment investigation. The last governor to be impeached could not have been more different. In 1913, William “Plain Bill” Sulzer was targeted for impeachment after pushing anti-corruption measures that irritated the infamous Tammany Hall. He was impeached based allegations involving the misuse of a small amount of campaign funds.
Known as the “Poor Man’s Friend,” Sulzer had no friends in the political machine. That may now be the only similarity to Andrew Cuomo. He has more alleged victims and public allies after the James report.
Cuomo is still looking at an ongoing investigation over the alleged use of public staff and resources in writing his controversial book “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the Covid-19 Pandemic” – a book deal that result in a windfall payment of $4 million from Crown books.
Cuomo will now have to spend much of that $4 million in litigation that will likely continue for years.
Cuomo is facing the small possibility of a criminal charge but the overwhelming likelihood of civil lawsuits. In his 2014 book, All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life, Cuomo wrote “Some have suggested that I see my return to political life as a second chance. Not really—I see it as if I had come back from the dead. And I’ve discovered that being a political Lazarus has a silver lining: When you survive your worst fears, there’s very little that can shake you.”
This report however is a roadmap for litigants and, regardless of whether he shakes or survives, Cuomo is well now spend years as a serial defendant.