Defending himself against a lawsuit, former New York Gov. George Pataki insisted yesterday that he knew none of the details of a program to institutionalize violent sex offenders after they finished their prison sentences when he green-lighted the plan in 2005.
At federal court in Manhattan, Pataki told a jury that he did not even know what law was used to transfer more than 100 prisoners to psychiatric centers before a state court ruled that the practice was illegal a year later. Six convicted sex offenders have sued him and the state.
U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff told jurors before Pataki testified that the initiative was unconstitutional and it was their job to determine whether the defendants acted with intent to deprive the plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.
If the jury finds Pataki and the state responsible, it could assess damages. The trial is in its third week.
Pataki was confronted on the witness stand with his own words in the form of a press release from the governor's office and a statement issued in his name. In the statement, he said he directed the state's mental health department and corrections officials to make sure every sexually violent predator in state custody was evaluated before their release from prison to see if they needed to be involuntarily committed.
But Pataki testified that the statement was not true.
"I didn't direct them directly," he said. "Me personally, I never gave a directive." He said he did direct members of his office to study whether existing law could be used to involuntarily commit violent sexual predators who finished their prison sentences.
He did so after the New York Legislature for a sixth straight time refused to consider legislation passed in the Senate that would make it possible to have the prisoners evaluated to ensure they were not released if they still posed a threat, Pataki said.
Pataki announced in October 2005 that every sexually violent predator in state custody would be evaluated for involuntary civil commitment once their prison sentences were finished.
The practice was halted in late 2006 after the state court ruling, but some of the prisoners remained in psychiatric institutions years afterward.