A judge has dismissed the only criminal charge filed against former New York governor Andrew Cuomo in connection with the sexual harassment allegations that drove him from office.
The expected procedural move had been requested by prosecutors from the Albany County district attorney’s office and came as they, Cuomo and his lawyers made a virtual appearance before a judge in Albany City Court.
Cuomo did not speak during the hearing, which lasted just a few minutes. He was briefly visible on the video conference as a defence lawyer moved her camera slightly to show him in the room. He was wearing a black mask.
“We have reviewed all of the available evidence and concluded we cannot successfully secure a conviction in this case,” assistant district attorney Jennifer McCanney said.
Judge Holly Trexler said: “This court is acutely aware of the fact that the district attorney’s office has unfettered discretion to determine whether to prosecute a particular person or case.”
He could still potentially face lawsuits over his conduct if his accusers choose to take him to court. Cuomo denied the groping allegation and says he did not touch anyone inappropriately.
The misdemeanour complaint was filed by the local sheriff in October, two months after Cuomo resigned from office.
Albany County District Attorney David Soares told Judge Trexler this week that although the aide was credible, and some evidence supported her account, he believed he could not win a conviction in court.
The charges against Cuomo were based on allegations by Brittany Commisso, who said Cuomo slid his hand up her blouse and grabbed her breast when they were alone in an office at the mansion.
Her testimony was among the most damning in a report released in August by Democratic state Attorney General Letitia James that concluded Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women.
Cuomo resigned that month. He has called the report unfair and has vehemently denied the groping allegation.
In a letter to Trexler on Tuesday, Mr Soares said “statutory elements of New York law make this case impossible to prove”.
He added that multiple government inquiries into Cuomo’s conduct had created “technical and procedural hurdles” regarding prosecutors’ obligations to disclose evidence to the defence.
Some legal experts said Mr Soares’ decision illustrated the difficulties of prosecuting sex crime allegations but others said he should have proceeded if he considered the accuser credible.
Ms Commisso was among the critics.
“My disappointing experience of re-victimisation with the failure to prosecute a serial sexual abuser, no matter what degree the crime committed, yet again sadly highlights the reason victims are afraid to come forward, especially against people in power,” Ms Commisso said in a statement to the Times Union of Albany.