Filing the first civil case against New York’s former governor over alleged sexual harassment, an anonymous trooper who figured prominently in the Empire State attorney general’s report sued Andrew Cuomo (D) on Thursday—as well as his ex-chief-of-staff Melissa DeRosa and the New York State Police for purportedly using the “machinery of the State” to orchestrate a cover-up. Now, just one day later, the trooper’s lawyers have amended their complaint to add Rich Azzopardi as a defendant based on a blistering statement the Cuomo spokesperson issued, implying the litigation was an act of extortion.
“Did Not Act Alone”
Just as in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D) report, the woman goes only by the pseudonym “Trooper 1” in her lawsuit, describing herself as one among the 11 accusers who stepped forward against the former governor in August. Her lawsuit begins with a detailed recitation of the report’s allegations, peppered with quotations from his accusers.
“Between 2013 and 2021, the Governor of the State of New York, Andrew Cuomo, sexually harassed at least 11 women, including nine current and former state employees,” the lawsuit begins. “He wanted hugs (‘the hugs definitely got closer and tighter to the point where I knew I could feel him pushing my body against his and definitely making sure that he could feel my breasts up against his body’); kisses (‘he would normally go to kiss me on the cheek and he would quickly turn his head and catch me on the lips’); and to talk about sex (‘he wanted to know if I slept with older men’). He told his victims he was ‘lonely’ and asked them to find him a ‘girlfriend.’ He leered at them (‘he was fully staring down my shirt’). And he touched them inappropriately (‘[h]e placed and pressed, then moved his finger across my breasts in a way that clearly meant to show me his power and his ability to control by body and my dignity’).”
As the trooper puts it, Cuomo “did not act alone.” The lawsuit alleges that DeRosa shouted at the editor of the Albany-based Times Union to prevent the publication of a story about the trooper, which the paper did not run. DeRosa resigned before her boss ultimately followed suit.
Her attorney Paul Schechtman said that his client learned about the case from Twitter, “but according to the trooper’s own testimony, Melissa’s only interaction with her was to say ‘hello and goodbye.'”
“It is not a viable case anywhere in America and is beyond frivolous,” Schechtman said.
The sexual harassment claims against Cuomo—and others related to his handling of COVID-19 in New York nursing homes—also sparked criminal investigations in at least five jurisdictions, all of which fizzled out in short order.
Both before and after his resignation, Cuomo vehemently denied the allegations against him, painting the claims against him alternately as stemming from political vendettas, outright fabrications, and misinterpretations of innocent behavior. He has said on more than one occasion that some women have misread affectionate behavior as sinister — such as kissing them multiple times on the cheeks, which Cuomo attributed to his Italian-American heritage.
“Your Sex Drive Goes Down”
Cuomo’s lawyers and representatives have pointed to the speedy failures of five criminal investigations as vindication for the governor, and they have gone on the counterattack against his accusers and Attorney General James, who authored the 168-page report that ended his political career. He has filed complaints accusing James and the attorneys she tapped to lead her investigation into Cuomo—former Southern District of New York District Attorney Joon Kim and Anne Clarke—of “prosecutorial misconduct.”
If it reaches a jury, the trooper’s scathing lawsuit would represent the first reckoning through the legal process on the allegations—under civil litigation’s lighter preponderance of the evidence standard rather than the criminal process’s high bar of reasonable doubt.
In the trooper’s case, the former governor insists that his conduct was innocuous.
The trooper claims that Cuomo sexually harassed her on multiple occasions—in one instance, allegedly running his hand across her stomach from her belly button to her right hip. In another alleged incident, she said Cuomo ran his finger from the top of her neck down her spine to the middle of her back, saying “hey, you,” while she was standing in front of him in an elevator. She says that Cuomo made sexually suggestive comments to her, allegedly asking her why she would want to marry because, among other things, “your sex drive goes down.”
Azzopardi, who has been Cuomo’s loyal defender, described such allegations as trivial.
“This claim relies on the AG’s proven fraud of a report, as demonstrated by the five district attorneys who, one by one—Democrat and Republican—looked at its findings and found no violations of law,” Azzopardi wrote in a statement on Thursday evening. “If kissing someone on the cheek, patting someone on the back or stomach or waving hello at a public event on New Year’s Eve is actionable then we are all in trouble.”
“Justice in a Court of Law”
The Cuomo spokesman went on to effectively accuse the trooper and her high-powered law firm Wigdor LLP of being extortionists.
“This law firm is widely known to use the press to extort settlements on behalf of ‘anonymous claimants’ – that is un-American and will not happen here,” Azzopardi wrote. “Gov. Cuomo will fight every attempt at cheap cash extortions and is anxious to have the dirty politics stop– we look forward to justice in a court of law.”
Douglas Wigdor, a founding partner at the firm, quickly threatened to sue over the claim, according to a message posted by Azzopardi on Twitter.
By Friday morning, it became clear that was no bluff. In the amended lawsuit, her attorney Valdi Licul described this statement as a false accusation of a crime—and added in a statement that it was attempted “bullying.”
“Trooper 1 will not be bullied into silence by Cuomo or his enablers,” Licul wrote. “The ex-Governor has continued to follow the harasser’s playbook of shaming and attacking his victims by falsely accusing Trooper 1 and our firm of extortion simply because she asserted her legal rights. This behavior is precisely why women are so often afraid to speak out against their harassers and why our client has asked the Court to proceed anonymously in order to protect her safety.”
The six-count complaint alleges multiple counts of state and federal discrimination and retaliation. Azzopardi is now a defendant in two retaliation counts. The firm appeared not to follow through, at least in the amended complaint, on the threatened defamation count.
Read the amended complaint, below:
(Photo via Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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