NEW YORK: The lawyers tapped to investigate sexual harassment allegations against New York governor Andrew Cuomo both have experience handling high-profile cases involving men accused of abusing their power.
One of the attorneys, Joon Kim, was a federal prosecutor who directed investigations that sent one of Cuomo’s top aides to prison on a bribery conviction and led to the conviction of another on charges connected to a massive economic development project that Cuomo championed.
The other investigator, Anne L Clark, is an employment lawyer who once represented a woman in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against a powerful New Jersey politician.
New York Attorney General Letitia James appointed Clark and Kim on Monday to look into accusations against the Democratic governor made by several women, including three former staffers in his administration.
“These are serious allegations that demand a rigorous and impartial investigation. We will act judiciously and follow the facts wherever they lead,” Kim said in a statement released by James’ office.
The allegations include asking questions about the women’s love lives and discussing his own, making inappropriate comments about their appearance and, in some cases, subjecting them to unwanted kisses or too-intimate hugs.
Cuomo has denied touching anyone inappropriately and said some of the allegations are false. But he has apologized for engaging in what he called office “banter” that some women “misinterpreted” as flirting. He has said he didn’t realize he was making anyone uncomfortable.
“The people of New York deserve an exhaustive and independent investigation into these allegations, and I am committed to seeing it through,” Clark said in a statement via James’ office. The Associated Press left messages with both Clark and Kim seeking further comment.
Kim served as acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York for 10 months in 2017 and 2018, taking over after his predecessor, Preet Bharara, was abruptly fired by President Donald Trump.
The office would later be deeply involved in investigating members of Trump’s inner circle, including his lawyer Michael Cohen and political strategist Steve Bannon. But during Kim’s tenure, its highest-profile cases involved public corruption.
Kim held various top posts in the office while it investigated Joseph Percoco, a longtime Cuomo friend and aide whom the governor once likened to a brother.
Percoco was convicted in 2018 and is serving a six-year sentence for accepting more than $300,000 from companies that wanted to gain influence with Cuomo’s administration.
Cuomo wasn’t accused of wrongdoing, but testimony presented an unflattering picture of his office’s inner workings.
After Percoco’s conviction, Cuomo said there’s “no tolerance for any violation of the public trust.” His opponents, meanwhile, said the case showed the governor hadn’t done enough to address chronic corruption in state government.
Kim also was a key figure in the US attorney’s office while it investigated the state’s Buffalo Billion high-tech construction project, a probe that led to the conspiracy and wire fraud conviction of a man whom Cuomo once called his “economic guru” Alain Kaloyeros, a former head of the State University of New York’s Polytechnic Institute. He was sentenced in 2018 to 3 1/2 years in prison but has remained free while his case is appealed.
Days into his tenure as the acting US attorney, Kim announced prosecutors wouldn’t seek criminal charges against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, after investigating whether his administration solicited campaign contributions from people seeking official favors from the city.
Kim, who has been in private practice for the last three years, was known in the US attorney’s office as being detail-oriented while also having a good sense of humor that people didn’t always recognize.
Clark is a New York City law firm partner who has handled sexual harassment, disability discrimination and equal pay cases.
Among her past clients is a woman who sued former New Jersey state Assembly Speaker Garabed “Chuck” Haytaian, accusing him of repeatedly kissing and groping her against her wishes while she worked for the Assembly in the mid-1990s. Haytaian denied the allegations.
The state eventually paid the woman $175,000 to settle the case. Haytaian, who also chaired the state Republican Party for a time, later retired from political life.
Earlier in Clark’s career, she worked for what was then the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund; it’s now called Legal Momentum.
She was periodically quoted in the media including about a 1993 Supreme Court case that hinged on whether a Tennessee-based forklift rental company president’s sexual innuendos and sexist remarks, which he said were jokes, amounted to an abusive work environment.
A lower court had said no, reasoning that the executive’s conduct was offensive but wouldn’t have been expected to “seriously affect” an employee’s psychological well-being.
Clark, who wasn’t involved in the case, saw it differently: “You shouldn’t have to suffer a nervous breakdown before you can make a claim,” USA Today quoted her as saying.
The Supreme Court ultimately also disagreed and sent the case back to the lower court to proceed.