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Pataki found not liable in offenders case

Former New York Gov. George Pataki cannot be held accountable for violating the rights of violent sex offenders who were involuntarily committed to mental institutions even though they had completed lengthy prison terms, a jury found yesterday.

The jurors reached the verdict after hearing about three weeks of testimony at civil trial in federal court in Manhattan.

It included that of sex offenders who sued Pataki and other state officials for unspecified damages, alleging they conspired in the mid-2000s to abuse their authority and rob them of their constitutional rights.

The jury found one official, former state health commissioner Sharon Carpinello, liable in the case. But it only awarded the plaintiffs $1 each in damages.

Afterward, Carpinello expressed relief, saying the minuscule damages showed the jury believed her testimony that the plaintiffs "were very much in need of treatment." Pataki, who also took the witness stand, wasn't in the courtroom to hear the verdict.

In statement, Pataki attorney Abbe Lowell said the three-term former governor "sought to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers and make sure that they were well-served by their government. He achieved this by keeping the law and the constitution priorities all the time. The jury verdict confirmed this."

Plaintiff attorney Ameer Benno said outside court that he still believed that "the evidence supported a finding of liability on the part of Gov. Pataki."

The case stemmed from Pataki's decision in 2005 to have heath and prison officials evaluate the worst sex offenders for possible civil commitment once released from prison.

The practice was halted in 2006 after a state court found that several men who were committed should have been entitled to hearings before it happened. Some remained in psychiatric institutions for years afterward.

Six of the sex offenders sued Pataki and other officials in 2008, claiming the officials had abused their authority by denying them their freedom.

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