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For 18 days, former gubernatorial aide Golan Cipel and his lawyers threatened to sue New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey for sexual harassment. Throughout the standoff, the Democratic governor’s lawyers practically dared Cipel to file, accusing him and his legal team of being shakedown artists without a case. In the end, Cipel and his lawyers, Allen Lowy and Rachel Yosevitz, blinked. With their client having fled to Israel, out of the reach of FBI agents seeking to question him, the lawyers announced late last month that there would be no suit. Citing the governor’s shocking Aug. 12 disclosure that he was resigning because he had had an adulterous affair with an unnamed aide — later identified as Cipel — the one-time homeland security liaison said in a statement read by Yosevitz, “I see the resignation as an important victory and feel great relief in light of the fact that McGreevey cannot now do to others what he has done to me.” Cipel also said, “It’s clear that McGreevey resigned because he sexually harassed me.” McGreevey’s outside counsel on the matter, William Lawler III, a partner at the D.C. office of Vinson & Elkins, countered, “The failure to file [suit] after weeks of posturing and constantly changing claims and making incomprehensible claims is the best possible proof that Golan Cipel’s claims never had any merit.” Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, who took part in early negotiations with Cipel’s main lawyer, New York City solo Lowy, was blunter. “This just proves that this is nothing more than a failed extortion plot against the governor,” he said. Lesniak is a McGreevey ally and former state Democratic Party chairman who leads Parsippany, N.J.’s Weiner Lesniak. One federal law-enforcement official familiar with the episode, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s probe into the governor’s charge that he was being extorted, said, “This was a strange cast of characters in the Cipel camp. They could not be held down to any one position. They made assertions and said in the beginning that they wanted to cooperate and had a story to tell, but it was just a blur of indecisiveness.” The FBI has been investigating McGreevey’s assertion that he was being extorted, a claim brought by Lawler just before the governor resigned, as well as whether or not any laws were broken by McGreevey for putting Cipel on the state payroll with undefined duties and hours. Those sympathetic to the governor say that the call to the FBI by Lawler called Cipel’s bluff. But four sources familiar with the unfolding developments all agree that there is little likelihood that anyone will be indicted following the investigation. The four, speaking on the condition of anonymity, cite the difficulty of proving that settlement talks between lawyers are extortion attempts, notwithstanding the paucity of evidence that a plaintiff has sufficient facts to state a cause of action. It was Lowy’s refusal to be specific about evidence that McGreevey harassed Cipel — the how, when, and where — that led McGreevey’s team to conclude that Lowy lacked anything substantive. Lowy acknowledged that he disclosed very little to Lawler, Lesniak, and the governor’s chief counsel, Michael DeCotiis, during three meetings between July 23 and Aug. 12. “Lawyers don’t give details,” he said. “They don’t show their cards.” Lowy insisted that he did provide at least two harassment instances. But one McGreevey loyalist countered that “when it was checked out, it proved to be nothing. Then Lowy would clam up.” Lowy and Yosevitz, a Great Neck, N.Y. solo, have said they had several witnesses. But again, Lowy has never named any of them, either to his adversaries or to the media. McGreevey, in announcing his resignation as of Nov. 15, said he had a consensual affair that lasted a few months into his first year in office, in 2002, when Cipel was his aide. For his part, Cipel says that he is not gay and did not succumb to what he described as intense pressure from McGreevey for sex. Cipel has repeatedly called himself a victim of an “oppressive” and powerful public figure who controlled his future, including his job and his status as an Israeli national here on a work visa. Lowy said Sept. 3 that he is no longer commenting on the case, referring all questions to Cipel’s Israeli-based media adviser whom he did not know. Yosevitz lists no office or home phone number and could not be reached. FLIP-FLOPS From the beginning, McGreevey’s team said that dealing with Cipel’s legal challenge was a bizarre experience. For starters, neither Lowy nor Yosevitz appear to have any experience in employment law, even though Lowy claims that they do. Lowy is a friend of Cipel who lives in the same midtown Manhattan high-rise with him. Lowy has never been admitted in New Jersey. Lowy concedes that most of the legal work he has done has been in corporate and intellectual property, though he also acknowledges spending a lot of time in nonlegal activities on behalf of young classical musicians, mostly Israeli immigrants. He says he’s a litigator, but a colleague and close friend, Elmont, N.Y., solo Jonathan Stein, says Lowy does no litigation. Lowy maintains a Web site touting what he calls “Allen M. Lowy, Attorneys at Law,” which lists 11 lawyers engaged in 14 practice areas, including employment law, in his tiny midtown office. But all of those lawyers practice elsewhere, with one saying the site should have come down years ago. Lowy’s office, within a suite of offices with no name on the door, was unstaffed when visited by a reporter recently. Yosevitz was an associate with Mound Cotton Wollan & Greengrass in New York from 1991 to 2000 and then with two smaller firms, until going solo about a year ago. She handles insurance defense and real estate matters. The pair have changed their position repeatedly since going public with their intention to sue McGreevey on Aug. 13, a day after the governor announced his resignation. They said they intended to sue; then, of course, did not. They said they would name the state, indicating they would seek money damages, but also said at other times that they were not interested in money, only justice. They never mentioned that their client was straight, and not gay, during their press conferences, only to have Cipel make that pronouncement later in Israel. They said Cipel would consider dropping his suit if the governor apologized, then dropped it without any apology. Lowy said the two-year statute of limitations for sexual harassment under the state’s Law Against Discrimination did not apply because Cipel had “continuing harassment” and intimidation claims, only to then declare that the statute had indeed run. They said that McGreevey’s resignation was an admission of sexual harassment, even though McGreevey and his team repeatedly denied there was any harassment. And they threatened to sue McGreevey for slander and defamation, but now say they won’t. In his statement Aug. 31, Cipel said his decision not to sue was reinforced by the fact that “the payment of the award would have fallen on the state and not the governor himself.” Yosevitz added that her client “has no desire to have the taxpayers pay for Mr. McGreevey’s reprehensible conduct.” Yet McGreevey’s loyalists say that Lowy mentioned a jury could award Cipel $50 million, something Lowy confirms. The governor’s team also says Lowy pushed for a $5 million settlement. Says one McGreevey confidant, who does not wish to be identified: “Lowy didn’t care where the money was coming from and how it was to be paid; he was ready to sign any settlement and any release. But that’s not how lawyers settle cases.” At the 11th hour, during the third and final meeting between the parties, a new lawyer took part and, according to sources, proposed another solution. Timothy Saia, a partner in Livingston, N.J.’s Morgan, Melhuish, Monaghan, Arvidson, Abrutyn & Lisowski, was at that last meeting in the New York offices of Vinson & Elkins. Saia, two sources say, proposed that the governor’s office promise to push for approvals for the building of a private medical college in Livingston being proposed by Touro College. Touro is a New York-based institution run by Orthodox Jews that counts among its board members Charles Kushner, the longtime financial backer of the governor who recently pleaded guilty to federal tax and witness tampering charges. Saia told The Star-Ledger, a daily newspaper published in Newark, N.J., that he got involved because he knows both Cipel and Lesniak and believed he could act as a mediator. Saia was the lawyer who handled Cipel’s 2002 closing of a West Windsor town house. Lesniak says he did know Saia “through his law firm.” Saia is a registered independent. He gave $2,000 to the state Democratic committee in March 2003, though appears not to be active in politics. Lowy and Yosevitz have said that Saia was not on their team. Touro College has denied giving Saia authorization to act on their behalf. Saia was on vacation last week and could not be reached for comment. In his statement, Cipel wrote, “In my confrontation with this powerful figure, my only tool and the most effective one was the legal process.” He added at a later point, “I have no doubt that I would have won a civil case against the governor.” In the end, Cipel never used a legal tool. His lawyers, Lowy and Yosevitz, never even used a law office to make their pronouncements. Their first press conference was out in the rain, on the steps of a college. Their capitulation press conference was in a television studio. Tim O’Brien is a senior writer for the New Jersey Law Journal , where this story first appeared.

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