A judge on Friday dismissed a criminal complaint against Andrew M. Cuomo, the former New York governor, who had accused him of groping a former Executive Mansion adviser in late 2020.
The charge was dismissed during a virtual arraignment in Albany city court that lasted just seven minutes. Mr. Cuomo’s personal attorney briefly moved the camera during the arraignment, offering a few seconds view of Mr. Cuomo, who was wearing a black mask and a dark suit with a blue tie.
Mr. Cuomo was not seen again, as Judge Holly Trexler exchanged a few words with her attorneys and prosecutors and unsurprisingly granted his request to drop the sex crime charge against the former governor.
The mostly superficial appearance ended one of the most serious legal threats Mr. Cuomo had ever faced over allegations related to his treatment of women, leading to his resignation just four months ago.
In practice, his scheduled court appearance was the last procedural step necessary for prosecutors to drop the charges against Mr. 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 concerned about the allegations and had found former assistant Brittany Commisso to be credible, it would be too difficult to prove a criminal case.
But the appearance of Cuomo, a Democrat who wielded great influence in Albany for more than a decade, was an extraordinary sight.
It was his first public appearance since he resigned in August. He had been in hiding for months, occasionally appearing in emails to supporters or in pictures posted on social media, celebrating his birthday with his daughter, fishing with his dog, the Captain.
While most of New York’s political class has turned the page on Cuomo after a series of scandals tarnished his reputation, he has reached out to some of his remaining allies in recent weeks. He left them with the impression that he was interested in mounting a return to public life, however unlikely or distant that possibility may be.
On Friday, he had to appear in court, if only virtually, due to the ongoing pandemic. Judge Trexler, who had compelled him to appear, said at the beginning of the appearance: “This is the matter of the People of the State of New York against Andrew Cuomo.”
Judge Trexler read from her notes: “The court is well aware of the fact that the district attorney’s office has unlimited discretion in determining whether to prosecute a particular suspect or case,” she said.
He said he had reviewed the motions of Mr. Cuomo’s attorneys, as well as prosecutors, who had to overcome audio problems. He then declared that the complaint was dismissed.
Shortly thereafter, Rita Glavin, Mr. Cuomo’s attorney, issued a brief statement. “Today reason and the rule of law prevail,” he said. “It is not politics, rhetoric or mob mentality.”
An attorney for Ms. Commisso did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The misdemeanor forcible touching charge faced by Mr. Cuomo carried a sentence of up to one year in jail. Prosecutors in two other counties recently closed investigations into him, significantly decreasing the likelihood of his criminal conviction for his behavior toward women.
Mr. Cuomo has vehemently denied touching Ms. Commisso inappropriately, and has argued that many of the allegations of sexual harassment he faces from other women were the result of misunderstandings or changing social norms, not Inappropriate sexual advances on your part.
The details of Ms. Commisso’s account were part of a 165-page report from the state attorney general that concluded that Mr. Cuomo had sexually harassed 11 women.
The Fall of Andrew Cuomo
The path of resignation. After receiving national praise for his leadership in the early days of the pandemic, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo faced several scandals that ultimately 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 Cuomo, after months of escalating flirting behavior, touched her breast while the two were alone in their private residence in December 2020.
Shortly after her resignation, Ms. Commisso filed a complaint with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, which further investigated her allegation and filed charges against Mr. Cuomo in late October.
But in an unusual move, especially for a high-profile case, Sheriff Craig D. Apple filed the charge without consulting with Albany County District Attorney David Soares, who would have had to try the case in court. .
Soares said Sheriff Apple’s complaint was “potentially flawed.” After Mr. Soares’s office concluded its own investigation, it announced this week that prosecutors would not prosecute Mr. Cuomo, although it found Ms. Commisso credible. “After reviewing all the available evidence,” he said, “we have come to the conclusion 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 occurred, the highest standard in the legal system, while relying heavily on Ms. Commisso’s testimony.
Earlier this week, Ms Commisso expressed her dismay at Soares’ decision to drop the case, telling the Times Union of Albany that she “once again sadly highlights the reason why victims are afraid to come forward. , especially against the people in power. “
On Friday, Richard Azzopardi, the former governor’s spokesman, reiterated Cuomo’s argument that the accusations against him amounted to “political manipulation.”
“For the past few weeks, we have been silent as the process unfolded; do not confuse our respect for the justice system with acquiescence, “said Azzopardi. “Stay tuned.”
Jonah E. Bromwich contributed to reporting.