Reporting from New York —
New York Gov. David A. Paterson exercised poor judgment but committed no apparent crime when he entered the fray involving a woman who had accused one of his top aides of domestic violence, a retired judge appointed to investigate the governor's role in the case concluded Wednesday.
In a 57-page report, the former chief judge of the state's Court of Appeals, Judith S. Kaye, said testimony from more than 30 witnesses suggested that the only person who might be liable to face charges related to the alleged abuse incident last fall is the aide, David Johnson, who has denied wrongdoing.
"However, evidence revealed errors in judgment following the incident … by the governor himself," said Kaye, citing "numerous telephone contacts" between Paterson and Johnson's accuser, Sherr-Una Booker.
"Regardless of any good faith reasons on the part of the governor for the contacts that he initiated, these were errors of judgment," the report said.
The report was a hollow victory for the governor, whose hopes of remaining in office beyond his current term were destroyed by the scandal. Paterson became governor in 2008 after Eliot Spitzer resigned after revelations of his involvement in a prostitution scandal.
In February, amid allegations he had intervened in the domestic violence case to protect Johnson, Paterson dropped his bid to be elected governor this fall. He still faces an investigation into allegations he violated ethics rules by obtaining free tickets to the first game of the 2009 World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Paterson, who has denied wrongdoing in either case, said he could not comment on Kaye's findings because he had not reviewed them. Kaye was appointed in March to lead the investigation after Atty. Gen. Andrew M. Cuomo, who has since announced his candidacy for governor, recused himself from the case.
The report focused on Paterson's behavior in the four months after the Oct. 31, 2009, argument between Booker and Johnson, whom Booker accused of choking her, pushing her against a dresser, and tearing off her Halloween costume. Booker called 911 after Johnson left her New York City apartment following the fight and filed an order of protection against him, which she subsequently let lapse.
Johnson told Paterson of the altercation the next day, describing it as a "huge fight" that resulted in a 911 call, the report said. Nonetheless, the governor testified that he was not concerned about the incident because Johnson did not seem worried about it. Paterson said he did not know about Booker's order of protection against Johnson until three months later.
The governor testified that he offered to craft a statement for Booker on Feb. 16 after learning that the New York Times planned a story on the incident — a statement that Paterson has portrayed as a neutral and friendly attempt to help Booker. Critics, though, testified that the statement downplayed the altercation between Johnson and Booker and falsely denied that their breakup was acrimonious. According to the report, the state employee assigned to send the proposed statement to Booker for her approval was so uncomfortable doing so that she created a new e-mail account to deliver it, because "she believed that the proposed statement was untrue and she was uncomfortable sending it" from her usual account.
Booker also thought the statement was false and refused to issue it, the report said.
Paterson, when asked during the investigation if the statement was accurate or inaccurate, replied, "I would say it was neither."
Though Kaye said there was no evidence of witness tampering by Paterson in his dealings with Booker, she said his actions were "hard to reconcile" given his "expressed commitment to the cause of domestic violence prevention."
Evidence warrants possible charges against Johnson, who has been suspended without pay since February, Kaye said. It is up to the Bronx County district attorney to decide if charges will be filed.