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Iconic Lawyer Roberta Kaplan Out at Time's Up After Cuomo Report

Roberta Kaplan and Edie Windsor

Roberta Kaplan, the lawyer famed for taking up LGBTQ+ rights and feminist cases, has resigned as cochair of the Time’s Up board after news surfaced of her involvement in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s response to sexual harassment accusations.

“Recent events have made it clear that even our apparent allies in the fight to advance women can turn out to be abusers,” Kaplan wrote in a Monday letter to Nina Shaw, vice chair of the Time’s Up board of directors. Her role as a practicing lawyer, sworn to confidentiality regarding her clients, is incompatible with work for Time’s Up, she said in the letter, posted by The New York Times.

She helped found Time’s Up and its legal defense fund four years ago; the group assists survivors of sexual harassment and assault. Kaplan is best known in the LGBTQ+ community for representing lesbian widow Edie Windsor in the marriage equality case that led the Supreme Court, in 2013, to invalidate the main part of the Defense of Marriage Act.

A report released last week by New York State Attorney General Letitia James found the accusations against Cuomo credible and concluded that the governor and his associates had committed unlawful retaliation against one of his accusers, former state employee Lindsey Boylan.

The report implicated Kaplan in the response to Boylan’s allegations. One of his aides, Melissa DeRosa, had consulted Kaplan about a document drafted by Cuomo, intended to be published as a letter to the editor or commentary piece, responded to Boylan’s accusations and sought to undermine her credibility. The report says that according to DeRosa, Kaplan and another leader of Time’s Up (identified elsewhere as its president and CEO, Tina Tchen) said the document would be fine to publish with some changes. In the end, it was not published, but another aide to Cuomo shared it with some media outlets.

Investigators with the attorney general’s office did not interview Kaplan or Tchen. Kaplan was serving as DeRosa’s lawyer during the investigation. DeRosa resigned from the Cuomo administration Sunday.

The Cuomo investigation also revealed that Alphonso David, the president of the Human Rights Campaign and former counsel to the governor, was involved in the response to the accusations. The HRC announced Monday that it has hired the law firm of Sidley Austin to conduct an evaluation of David’s actions.

Kaplan’s resignation comes after nearly 50 survivors of sexual harassment and assault signed on to a letter published Monday on Medium saying Time’s Up “has abandoned the very people it was supposed to champion” and “is failing all survivors.”

They were “dismayed yet unsurprised” to learn of Kaplan and Tchen’s involvement in the Cuomo matter, the survivors wrote, asserting that the two “weaponized their knowledge” of what survivors go through in order to help Cuomo retaliate. The signatories were also critical of Kaplan for representing the financial firm Goldman Sachs in a workplace sexual harassment case and said Time’s Up had mishandled several survivors’ cases.

They called on Time’s Up to “remove any board members, and staffers, who have supported perpetrators of harm, effective immediately”; to launch a third-party investigation into the involvement of Time’s Up board and staff with any perpetrators; sever any ties with individuals or companies “that have active allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or are litigating in opposition to survivors”; form a survivors’ advisory council; and more.

In her resignation letter, Kaplan said Time’s Up has “accomplished more than I think any of us thought possible” over the past four years. She established her own law firm around the same time that Time’s Up was founded, and there she has taken on many challenging cases — against Donald Trump, Jeffrey Epstein, white supremacists, and more, she wrote.

But, she said, “the standards that apply to lawyers are different from and more stringent than ethical norms that apply to others,” so she “cannot offer the degree of transparency about my firm’s matters now being demanded, since that would be contrary to my responsibilities as a lawyer.” She therefore submitted her resignation.

Tchen and the Time’s Up board released a statement supporting Kaplan’s decision. “We and she agree that is the right and appropriate thing to do,” the statement said. It also committed the group to “more transparency about our vision of change-making” and “a more inclusive process to engage the broader survivor community.”

Kaplan also spoke in an email to the Times, saying, “Today is a very sad day. I will so miss time spent with this board and our sisterhood. Going forward, I hope they will be able to stick together and continue this important work.”

One of Kaplan’s high-profile clients, writer E. Jean Carroll, tweeted support of the attorney Monday. Kaplan is representing Carroll in a defamation suit against Trump, who has said Carroll is lying about having been raped by him.

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