New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) announced that two attorneys will be leading the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) late Monday.
The high-profile investigation will be overseen by former acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) Joon H. Kim and employment discrimination attorney Anne L. Clark, a partner at the law firm of Vladeck, Raskin & Clark, P.C.
“We are committed to an independent and thorough investigation of the facts,” James said in a statement. “Joon H. Kim and Anne L. Clark are independent, legal experts who have decades of experience conducting investigations and fighting to uphold the rule of law. There is no question that they both have the knowledge and background necessary to lead this investigation and provide New Yorkers with the answers they deserve.”
Attorneys Jennifer Kennedy Park, Abena Mainoo, and Yannick Grant were also appointed to supporting roles.
Kim comes to the sexual harassment scandal with a notable pedigree vis-à-vis Empire State politics and corruption.
In 2017, the SDNY veteran led the prosecution of longtime Cuomo aide Joe Percoco, who was eventually found guilty of accepting over $300,000 in bribes—which he referred to using coded language as “ziti”—and is currently serving a six-year prison sentence.
The former top aide served as Cuomo’s right-hand man for over two decades and the pair were such close friends that the governor once said Percoco was “like a brother” to him. Percoco was also close to the current governor’s legendary father, former governor Mario Cuomo. The younger Cuomo extended the familial metaphor and once described Percoco as “my father’s third son, who I sometimes think he loved the most.” That’s description was made at Mario Cuomo’s funeral.
Cuomo was never legally implicated in the bribery scheme—but questions about the extent of the governor’s knowledge, if any, have often been raised by his political rivals and lingered in the press.
Clark is a noted sexual harassment and employment discrimination attorney who previously worked as a fellow at the oldest non-profit law firm dedicated to advancing women’s rights using the legal system—which was formerly called the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and is currently called Legal Momentum.
In the early 90s, Clark worked on the 11th Circuit appeal of a landmark sexual harassment case stylized as Robinson v. Jacksonville Shipyards, Inc. which led to current definition of a “hostile work environment” under Title VII.
The attorney general outlined the contours of their investigation:
This team is charged with conducting a thorough and independent investigation of, and the circumstances surrounding, allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo, including his administration’s handling of such matters. This work will be comprised of — but not limited to — issuing subpoenas and related compliance; examination of relevant documents and records; interviews, including formal depositions; and analysis of data and information pertinent to the investigation. As required by the enabling statute, the team will report weekly on the investigation to the Office of the Attorney General throughout the duration of the investigation. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, the team will produce a written report which will include its findings. The report will be made available to the general public.
The choices made by James on were widely praised as evidence that the investigation—which commences immediately—would be conducted rigorously and seriously.
“Great news,” tweeted CNN legal analyst and former SDNY prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers. “I don’t know Ms. Clark, but Joon Kim, a friend and former colleague of mine from SDNY, is an excellent and highly ethical lawyer.”
Employment attorney Kevin Mintzer knows Clark, though, and offered, high praise for his former colleague.
“I worked with Anne Clark for about 9 years,” he said via Twitter. “She knows more about sexual harassment law and employment law generally than anyone. She’s an outstanding choice. Also worth emphasizing that Anne Clark has been representing employees for over 30 years, including countless victims of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination. She will be fair to everyone involved, including the women who have come forward.”
Former SDNY head Preet Bharara also praised the selections:
Excellent choice 👏 https://t.co/wsUBO4gto1
— Preet Bharara (@PreetBharara) March 8, 2021
And, perhaps for good reason. Kim succeeded Bharara at the oft-referred-to “Sovereign District of New York” after the latter was unceremoniously sacked by then-president Donald Trump in early 2017.
New York State Assemblymember Kimberly Jean Pierre (D), an ally of the governor’s who represents the City of Lindenhurst on Long Island, and who signed an open letter in support of Cuomo earlier on Monday, also praised the selections as “[e]xcellent choices to lead this important investigation.”
That letter, framed as standing in solidarity with James as the “the first woman, and the first African American woman to be elected” attorney general in New York, was actually circulated by the governor’s office in a bid to staunch the bleeding after dozens of legislators called for his resignation over the weekend.
Oppositely, opponents of the governor also made sure to praise the investigators—while reiterating stressing that the investigation can be conducted with or without Cuomo in office.
“I continue to commend [the attorney general] for doing her job and naming an eminently capable and independent team to get to the bottom of these allegations,” New York State Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents numerous neighborhoods in the Bronx, said via Twitter. “But, for the record, an investigation can and should continue AFTER [Gov. Cuomo] resigns. As he should. If not, impeach.”
James’s office has reportedly said the attorney general will continue the independent investigation one way or another.
[image via Joshua Rashaad McFadden/Getty Images]
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