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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

HRC President, LGBTQ Civil Rights Attorney Implicated in Cuomo Probe

August 11, 2021 Philadelphia Gay News

Alphonso David speaking at a New York State Senate hearing in 2015. (Youtube screenshot.)

Amid apologies, defense of his actions and even tears, New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned from office on Aug. 10, effective in two weeks. The resignation comes following an investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James into allegations by 11 women, including former staffers and a state trooper, of sexual harassment and misconduct by Cuomo.

James released the 165 page report on Aug. 3 which corroborated multiple sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo that included kissing and inappropriate touching. The report also stated that the Cuomo administration was a “hostile work environment.” Cuomo denies the allegations in the report.

Investigators interviewed 179 people and reviewed more than 70,000 pieces of evidence for the report, which corroborates the stories of the women with contemporaneous texts they sent to friends and family, as well as notes and emails sent by senior staffers. The report reveals a pattern by Cuomo of targeting women and the efforts senior staffers took to cover for him.

Among those now accused of covering for Cuomo are the president of Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Alphonso David and iconic LGBTQ civil rights attorney Roberta Kaplan.

Kaplan successfully argued the case of United States v. Windsor before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 on behalf of LGBT rights activist and native Philadelphian Edith Windsor. The landmark decision in that case required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.

Kaplan is also a co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund. Time’s Up is a non-profit organization which raises money to support victims of sexual harassment. Kaplan resigned as chair of the organization after it was revealed that she reviewed a draft of a letter questioning the character of Lindsey Boylan, one of Cuomo’s accusers, presented by Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa.

DeRosa resigned on Aug. 8.

In an Aug. 9 statement, Time’s Up said, “We hold ourselves accountable. The events of the last week have made it clear that our process should be evaluated and we intend to do just that.”

The organization also said, “Robbie Kaplan, board co-chair, has stepped down from the board. We and she agree that is the right and appropriate thing to do.”

The statement from Time’s Up does not reference any of the direct involvement by Kaplan detailed in the attorney general’s report.

Questions about David’s involvement in the Cuomo investigation run much deeper and he is cited multiple times in the Attorney General’s report.

In 2015, David was appointed by Cuomo to serve as Counsel to the Governor. In this role, he functioned as the governor’s chief counsel and principal legal advisor, and managed all significant legal and policy deliberations affecting New York state, including evaluating proposed legislation, implementing laws and policies, and formulating the state’s posture in both affirmative and defensive litigation.

Prior to his appointment, David served for four years in the governor’s cabinet as the Deputy Secretary and Counsel for Civil Rights, the first position of its kind in New York state. In this capacity, he was responsible for a full range of legal, policy, legislative and operational matters affecting civil rights and labor throughout the state.

David is the first civil rights lawyer and the first person of color to serve as president of HRC in the organization’s 40-year history. He was hired as president in 2019.

On Aug. 3, David tweeted: “After reading the AG’s devastating report that concluded Gov. Cuomo engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, in violation of both federal and state law, he should resign.”

David made no mention of his own involvement in the case, nor that he was cited repeatedly in the report. HRC launched an investigation into David on Aug. 9. According to a statement from HRC, that internal investigation is expected to be concluded within 30 days.

There are several key allegations about David in the Attorney General’s report. The investigation revealed that David was in close and regular contact with Cuomo’s current advisers during the period of the investigation, particularly top aide Melissa DeRosa. The report states that David sent confidential personnel files of one of Cuomo’s accusers to DeRosa.

According to the investigation, after DeRosa saw a tweet sent by state employee Lindsey Boylan describing the governor as “one of the biggest abusers of all time,” she reached out to

David “to say that she needed to see Ms. Boylan’s ‘full file.’”

David sent documents related to Boylan to Rich Azzopardi, a communications adviser to Cuomo, according to the report. The report states that the adviser leaked the files David sent to the media.

The report also states that David was involved in discussions about calling and secretly recording a conversation between a former Cuomo staffer and another Cuomo accuser named “Kaitlin.”

The report details how David engaged in discussions about a letter that would attack an accuser’s credibility, and that he then collected signatures for that. The report says that David did not sign the letter himself, but told DeRosa he would if necessary. The letter was never sent out.

The report also states that David agreed to talk to women who had worked for Cuomo and attempt to get those women to sign onto a statement saying positive things about Cuomo.

The Attorney General’s report concludes that “The evidence obtained in our investigation revealed that the complainants’ fears of retaliation were justified.”

On Aug. 9, David tweeted a statement in which he denied knowledge of any of the accusations referenced in the Attorney General’s report, but admits to turning over the Boylan files. He denies ever agreeing to sign the letter — the same letter Kaplan resigned over — though he acknowledges his involvement in it.

David says that he “empathizes with survivors” and says that events like these “can be triggering for abuse survivors,” including members of the “HRC family.”

But in a meeting a few days earlier with HRC staffers, there were numerous calls for David to resign from that same HRC family. “When are you resigning?” one employee asked David in the Aug. 4 meeting described as “tense,” saying that “you are creating a toxic environment where partners can’t trust us.”

An HRC staffer in attendance at the meeting shared a recording with HuffPost, which published details of the 90-minute exchange between staff and David. Multiple staffers repeatedly asked for David’s resignation.

After the meeting, one attendee told HuffPost that “Alphonso was a great lawyer today, ducking questions and reframing answers. Most people don’t think he answered questions directly.”

HRC released a statement via Twitter from “Morgan Cox and Jodie Patterson, Human Rights Campaign and Foundation Board Chairs” on Aug. 9.

The statement says that HRC has “hired a prominent law firm to investigate” David’s work for Cuomo and asserts that David’s inclusion in the Attorney General’s report is “concerning.”

The statement also says, “HRC’s employees, supporters, board members and partners have raised questions about the appropriateness of Alphonso David’s actions and whether they align with HRC’s decades’ long mission of fighting for equality and justice for all.”

Yet HRC Foundation Board chair Patterson and HRC Board of Directors chair Cox also said in a joint statement that “The Human Rights Campaign and Human Rights Campaign Foundation Boards have full confidence in Alphonso David as president of the organization” and extended his contract for another five years.

Donors and partners of HRC have questioned spending more of the organization’s funds on an internal investigation replicating work already done independently by the Attorney General’s office, as details in the report appear to have been substantiated contemporaneously.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who is openly lesbian, tweeted that “I will not be accepting any campaign donations or support from @HRC unless and until there is a new president of this organization.”

Numerous donors called on David to resign via social media. The Log Cabin Republicans, frequent critics of HRC, also called on David to resign.

HRC states the organization “works to support all survivors of sexual assault” and that the internal investigation will not interfere with HRC’s work.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will become governor of New York on August 24, making her the first female governor of the state. Hochul has been lieutenant governor since Cuomo chose her in 2014 when his previous lieutenant governor declined to run for re-election. Prior to being elected lieutenant governor, Hochul was a member of the House of Representatives for New York’s 26th district.

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