Fordham Law


Between Yankees tickets and abuse probe, Paterson's legal woes mount

James A. Cohen in am New York, March 04, 2010

Media Source

Thursday March 4, 2010 7:23 PM By Emily Ngo

Whether he quits or fights on, Gov. David Paterson has dug himself a legal grave, experts said.

It was bad enough the beleaguered governor’s legal woes seemed limited to possible misdemeanor witness-tampering and obstruction-of-justice charges in a domestic violence case. But now he faces far worse after a probe this week showed he accepted World Series tickets and lied about it under oath.

“One is about property and one is about injury to a person,” said Ruthann Robson, a professor at CUNY School of Law. “Our instincts tell us that the crime against a person should be worse, but that’s not always true.”

Paterson could be slapped with felony perjury charges, $90,000 in fines and even jail time in the Yankees scandal, legal experts said.

“Whether someone’s doing something wrong or not, definitely lying about it and lying about it under oath is a crime,” Robson said.

If allegations of Paterson’s involvement in a separate domestic abuse case prove true, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — who is probing whether the governor illegally contacted Sherr-una Booker — could bring charges against Paterson himself, said Fordham Law professor James Cohen.

Much would depend on his intent in efforts to contact Booker, the woman allegedly attacked by top governor aide David Johnson. Paterson could have either pressured Booker to drop her case or simply called to check if she was fine, said Fordham Law professor James Cohen.

“Then he has a little more dancing room to say, ‘I was just trying to have a conversation,’” Cohen said, “but it bottoms out at the same thing. It’s hard not to [infer] that he was discouraging her from going to court.”

Paterson reportedly had two aides reach out to Booker, allegedly instructing a pal of Booker’s to “tell her the governor wants her to make this go away.” He spoke to Booker himself for one minute on Feb. 7 and said he asked her if she was all right. Booker missed a court date the next day where she was to obtain a protection order against Johnson.

“We don’t want people to be charged for simply talking or giving advice, but if that person advising you is someway superior to you, a governance boss, it has different valiance,” Robson said. “It seems worse. It’s a public trust thing.”

Attempted coercion and malfeasance of duty are other charges possibly on the table, Cohen said, adding that Cuomo’s investigation could be completed in as soon as two weeks.

If convicted, the governor probably won’t face time in the Booker case, dubbed Abusegate, unless charges involve something as serious as bribery, Cohen said.

Impeaching Paterson, an idea floated by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), is also not likely, especially with pressure Thursday mounting by the minute for his resignation.

If the son of Harlem continues to cling to his seat and even if he is cleared of wrongdoing, his fellow legislators could initiate the process by introducing articles of impeachment in the state Assembly, said Columbia Law professor Richard Briffault.

Then a court of impeachment would be convened with state senators, judges from the court of appeals and others, but there hasn’t been a statewide official impeached since Gov. William Sulzer in 1913.