Once a political ally, Cuomo distances himself from embattled judge Grisanti

Judge on camera shoving an officer
Posted at 3:53 PM, Oct 15, 2020

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo once spoke glowingly of former State Sen. Mark Grisanti and appointed him to a prestigious judgeship that pays $174,000 per year.

But Cuomo is now distancing himself from Grisanti in the wake of a viral video of the judge that is making national headlines -- and not in a good way.

“As has been the practice since before this current administration, Court of Claims judges are appointed for a fixed term and only if they are deemed ‘highly qualified’ by an independent judicial screening committee, and confirmed by the State Senate,” Richard Azzopardi, senior adviser to the governor, said in a written statement. “Once that happens, they are a part of a separate branch of government and disciplinary issues are under the purview of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.”

That commission now appears to be investigating Grisanti after a June scuffle outside his North Buffalo home in which Grisanti is seen shoving a police officer and attempting to use his connections to get police officers to remove a pair of handcuffs from his wife.

“You better get off my f---ing wife,” Mark Grisanti yelled in the video. “My daughter and my son are both Buffalo police officers...I’ll call them right now.”

Grisanti's lawyer has said the judge regrets the incident.

While Cuomo is not saying much about the embattled State Supreme Court judge, in his 2014 autobiography, “All Things Possible,” Cuomo talks about Grisanti’s days in the State Senate, when the governor asked for Grisanti’s “yes” vote on a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in New York State.

Grisanti at first pledged his support but later reneged after he spent the weekend in Western New York, he said.

“I know I said I’d be with you,” Cuomo quoted Grisanti as saying, “but that position is very unpopular in Buffalo. I heard about it all weekend. I can’t vote yes.”

Cuomo wrote that he was “truly...annoyed” by the interaction and warned Grisanti such a flip-flop would prove that Grisanti had no “integrity or credibility” and that the governor would bring such a message to Grisanti’s constituents.

As the vote neared, Cuomo recalled that he looked out a window in the State Capitol and saw Grisanti “outside, pacing and chain-smoking” in the rain.

The governor called Grisanti up to his office for one last attempt at persuasion before the big vote.

“He was torn and noncommittal, but I could tell he got it and had a sense that he was a good guy in a tough spot,” Cuomo wrote about Grisanti.

When the vote was called, Grisanti and three other key Republicans voted “yes” and ensured the passage of the Marriage Equality Act.

“God is good,” Cuomo wrote. “Grisanti did the right thing. There are men of conscience and courage.”

In the book, Cuomo adds that after the vote, Grisanti was the only one of the four Republican senators who voted for same-sex marriage who was able to keep his seat.

But that didn’t last for long, as Grisanti was defeated by Democrat Marc Panepinto in 2015.

Cuomo then appointed Grisanti, who is a lawyer but who had no previous judicial experience, to a State Court of Claims seat.

Some viewed the move -- as well as political appointments for some of the other Republicans who went across party lines to vote for same-sex marriage -- as political favors for helping the governor pass a key part of his agenda.

“I'm sure that the governor will never admit to any kind of a quid pro quo, but some of those people made out fairly well,” said Bob McCarthy, the political reporter and columnist for The Buffalo News.

Even though Grisanti lost to Panepinto in 2015, Cuomo was the only statewide Democrat not to endorse Panepinto, who later resigned his seat.

Grisanti’s Court of Claims judgeship comes with a 9-year-term, and he is now an acting State Supreme Court justice.

“That’s a pretty good deal for a nine-year term,” said McCarthy, who has covered politics in Western New York for decades. “A lot of people would be thrilled to have that appointment.”