Ex-N.Y. Governor Cuomo wants state to foot legal bill for harassment claim defense

Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs
  • Cuomo sued N.Y. attorney general after she rejected his request for legal counsel in an ongoing case against him
  • Cuomo, top aides sued in February by a New York state trooper

(Reuters) - Former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seeking to compel the state to pay for his legal defense in a sexual harassment case brought against him earlier this year.

Cuomo filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court on Wednesday evening against New York Attorney General Letitia James after she declined his request to provide counsel or pay for private lawyers to defend him in the litigation brought by an unnamed state trooper.

Cuomo argued he's entitled under state law to have his defense paid for because the alleged misconduct occurred while he was acting "within the scope of his public employment or duties."

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"Sexually harassing young women who work for you is not part of anyone's job description," a spokesperson for the New York Attorney General's office said in a Thursday statement in response to the complaint.

"Taxpayers should not have to pony up for legal bills that could reach millions of dollars so Mr. Cuomo's lawyer can attack survivors of his abuse," the statement said.

Rita Glavin, a lawyer representing Cuomo, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday. Glavin and Theresa Trzaskoma, who are both listed on the complaint, also represent Cuomo in the underlying lawsuit brought by the state trooper, whose name is not disclosed in court documents, in February.

Cuomo, a Democrat, resigned from office on Aug. 10, 2021, a week after James released the results of the five-month independent investigation that concluded he had sexually harassed 11 women.

Cuomo has denied acting inappropriately, a stance he reiterated in the new petition. He called the report released by James' office "one-sided and materially flawed" in the new filing.

Rich Azzopardi, a spokesperson for Cuomo, said in a Thursday statement the report "was nothing more than a political document and holds no legal weight."

In January, the last county prosecutor investigating allegations from one of several women against Cuomo said he had no legal basis to pursue a case, meaning Cuomo would not face criminal charges related to the sexual harassment claims that led to his resignation.

Cuomo said in his filing Wednesday that James' denial of his request for counsel in the state trooper's civil case was "arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the plain text of the statute, biased, personally and politically conflicted."

Cuomo claims the attorney general has a conflict of interest due in part to her role in issuing the 2021 report, which Cuomo said the state trooper relied on for her claims.

In addition to suing Cuomo, the trooper's lawsuit also added former top Cuomo aide Melissa DeRosa, accusing her of covering up the governor's alleged misdeeds, as well as the New York state police.

Lawyers for the state police and DeRosa didn't immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday, though a lawyer for DeRosa had previously called the lawsuit "beyond frivolous" on Twitter.

The attorney general's office granted DeRosa's request to be represented by private attorneys paid by the state, according to Cuomo's petition.

Azzopardi was also added as a defendant in the state trooper's lawsuit after he tweeted a statement suggesting the trooper's complaint was an attempt to "extort" a settlement.

When reached Thursday, he referred to another tweet in which he said his original statement was "free speech that is supported by actual facts."

The case is Andrew M. Cuomo v. Letitia James, New York Supreme Court, No. 156771.

For Cuomo: Rita Glavin of Glavin and Theresa Trzaskoma of Sher Tremonte

For Letitia James: Unknown

Read more:

New York state trooper sues former Governor Cuomo, aide over sexual misconduct accusations

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Sara Merken reports on privacy and data security, as well as the business of law, including legal innovation and key players in the legal services industry. Reach her at sara.merken@thomsonreuters.com