And…Tell Me Why Governor Paterson is Staying in Office?

Jodi Jacobson

NY Governor David Paterson will not run for election, but will stay in office for nearly another year, because, he contends, he has not "abused his office."  I guess that depends on what your definition of "abuse" is.

Today, New York State Governor David Paterson made clear that he would not run for election.  His decision is almost certainly the result of his declining popularity among voters generally and loss of faith among Democratic party leadership.

And almost certainly, the growing controversy surrounding evidence that his administration acted in what appears to have been efforts to silence a woman seeking a restraining order against a high-level aide to the governor sealed the deal.

Paterson is not, however, resigning from office.  He plans to stay…for another 308 days.  And I am wondering why.

According to the New York Times, he “defiantly denied any wrongdoing in the burgeoning scandal over his involvement in the abuse case:

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“I have never abused my office — not now, not ever,” he told a gathering of roughly 60 reporters, photographers and camera people in a crowded briefing room in the governor’s office on Third Avenue in Manhattan.

I guess that might depend on what your definition of “abuse of office” is.

A front-page article in the New York Times on Thursday provides disturbing–and anger provoking–details about the Paterson Administration’s treatment of the woman in question.

A few tidbits:

  • Last fall, a woman went to court in the Bronx to testify that she had been violently assaulted–in what has been called a brutal encounter–by a top aide to the governor and seek a protective order. 
  • In the ensuing months, she returned to court twice to press her case, complaining that the State Police had been harassing her to drop it. The State Police, which had no jurisdiction in the matter, [emphasis added] confirmed that the woman was visited by a member of the governor’s personal security detail.
  • Just before she was due to return to court to seek a final protective order, the woman got a phone call from the governor, according to her lawyer. She failed to appear for her next hearing on Feb. 8, and as a result her case was dismissed.
  • The case involved David W. Johnson, 37, who had risen from working as Mr. Paterson’s driver and scheduler to serving in the most senior ranks of the administration, but who also had a history of altercations with women.
  • The alleged assault happened shortly before 8 p.m. on Halloween in the apartment she had shared with Mr. Johnson and her 13-year-old son for about four years, according to police records.
  • She told the police that Mr. Johnson, who is 6-foot-7, had choked her, stripped her of much of her clothing, smashed her against a mirrored dresser and taken two telephones from her to prevent her from calling for help, according to police records.
  • The woman was twice granted a temporary order of protection against Mr. Johnson, according to the proceedings in Family Court in the Bronx.
  • “I’m scared he’s going to come back,” she said, according to the proceedings, in which a court referee at the initial hearing noted bruises on the woman’s arm. “I’m glad you’re doing this,” the woman told the referee, “because I thought it was going to be swept under the table because he’s like a government official, and I have problems even calling the police because the state troopers kept calling me and harassing me to drop the charges, and I wouldn’t.”
  • Two days later, the woman was back in Family Court, and the order of protection was kept in place. And she again asserted that she had been pressured by the State Police. “The State Police contacted me because they didn’t want me to get an order of protection or press charges or anything,” she told the court.
  • Mr. Johnson has had three known altercations with women, according to interviews with the women and the governor. Two of them involved the police, and one required the intervention of Mr. Paterson’s chief of staff at the time.

In all of this, the governor and State Police have resorted to the classic male apologist role, first denying that there was anything wrong with intervening directly with this woman, despite the fact that she was a public hospital employee fearful for her job in going up against the governor’s aide.

According to the Times for example, State Police superintendent, Harry J. Corbitt admitted that a state police officer had met with the woman, even though the episode occurred in the jurisdiction of the New York Police Department. He said the visit was made only to tell the woman of her options, including seeking counseling.

“We never pressured her, at least what I was advised; we never pressured her not to press charges,” said Mr. Corbitt, whom the governor appointed. “We just gave her options.”

I would call this coercion in its own right.  The State Police perform a variety of functions, including patrolling the highways, counterterrorism, and narcotics and homicide investigations, but they do not have primary jurisdiction in New York City. The department also has a detail, or team, of about 200 officers who provide personal security for the governor and his family and officials traveling with them.

These detail officers would have interacted frequently with Mr. Johnson….otherwise known as the perpetrator, a close aide and confidante to the governor, and the person against whom the woman was seeking protection.

So a bunch of state police who protect the governor and have personal relationships with the aide are “counseling” the woman on her “options” on an embarassing incident during which a weak governor is holding on to an election bid by a thread.

Next step, of course is to question her “emotional state.”

According to the Times:

Mr. Corbitt, asked again if the woman had been pressured, said: “I’m not sure of her emotional state; I don’t know her. It just doesn’t make sense to me that we would do that.”

Despite the woman’s fear and the past history of Johnson’s involvement in incidents of violence against women, the Paterson administration seems not to have instructed him to accept and be held by the order of protection.

Orders of protection are not considered in effect until they have been served on the person accused of the offense. The records in the case make clear that the woman, over the course of weeks, had become frustrated in her efforts to have Mr. Johnson served.

On Nov. 4, Judge Andrea Masley of Family Court asked the woman if she had served Mr. Johnson.

“No, ma’am, he refused to,” she said. “He avoided it.”

At a hearing on Dec. 17, the judge asked a lawyer for Mr. Johnson, William J. Madonna, if he would accept service of the protective order on behalf of his client. He refused. Mr. Madonna did not return several calls seeking comment.

The judge asked the woman if she wanted to proceed. “Yes, I do,” the woman said.

The judge then ordered that a new summons be issued and set the next court date for Feb. 8.

The records of that proceeding are brief. Mr. Madonna was present, but not Mr. Johnson. And the woman was not present.

“We were never served,” Mr. Madonna said, apparently referring to the court papers.

“The case is dismissed without prejudice,” Judge Masley said.

The next step: Excuse the perpetrator’s behavior.

Last week, Mr. Paterson said there had never been a judicial finding that Mr. Johnson had been violent with women, and he characterized the Oct. 31 episode as a “bad breakup.” A spokesman for Mr. Paterson said last week that the governor had looked into the episode and that the complaint “had been withdrawn.”

A bad breakup? 

Paterson then tries to shoot the reporter cum messenger investigating the story.

Mr. Paterson, at a meeting with the editorial board of The Times on Feb. 8, said he was angry that a reporter had gone to the home of what he described as “an ex-girlfriend” of an aide. He suggested that the reporter’s real purpose had been to dig up damaging information about him.

Paterson, ironically, fancies himself a champion of the cause of battered women.  In that stunning act of hypocrisy that seems to characterize male politicians so far out of touch they could be landing on Mars, Paterson tried to deflect attention in his meeting with the Times editorial board, by focusing on the case of Hiram Monserrate, the former state senator who was convicted of misdemeanor assault against his companion and ousted from the Legislature.

Mr. Paterson said he was offended that while the woman had been granted an order of protection against Mr. Monserrate, the senator’s aides had continued to have contact with her and assist her.

“The order of protection is designed to allow for independence of the victim,” he said. “This victim apparently had no independence.”

He said the conduct of the aides warranted a criminal investigation, perhaps for witness intimidation.

“There have got to be some issues or some questioning of this woman not on the witness stand about how she was handled,” the governor said. “Because that’s the whole essence of what domestic violence is. It’s control.”

Hmmmm….let’s see.  Monserrate’s aides deserve to be under criminal investigation for exactly the same actions in which Mr. Paterson himself was engaging during the same period?

I don’t know about you, but sounds like abuse of office to me….and a whole bunch of male privilege hypocrisy once again on display.

But you know, if you are governor, I guess you can decide to hold yourself to a lower standard.

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