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Andrea Peyser, Columnist of the Year- September 20, 2005

IT WAS minutes before a judge dismissed criminal butt-groping charges yesterday against actor Christian Slater.

Sitting amid a sea of ordinary thieves and crack whores in Manhattan Criminal Court, the movie star was busy checking e-mail on a Blackberry as I approached. Suddenly, he looked up with a goofy grin and stuck out a paw - then he reached up and gently caressed my upper arm.

Up and down went the hand, although careful not to touch anything truly important. What a refreshing, Hollywood kind of way to say: "Hello!"

Slater had just flown in on the red-eye from L.A. after the Emmys, a source told me, which may partially explain his frenetic, over-caffeinated energy. "He's shot."

He was here to address accusations that, in the wee hours of May 31, a drunken Slater was wandering on the Upper East Side after a fight with a girlfriend, when he reached out and fondled a strange lady's tush.

He was charged with forcible touching and third-degree sexual abuse, misdemeanors that could have put him away for up to a year if convicted.

Instead, Judge Shawndya Simpson dismissed the case. A source said there were no witnesses to the alleged butt-grabbing, and prosecutors feared a jury might not believe the complainant, who is 52.

Now, if Slater, 36, keeps his hands to himself for the next six months, the record will be sealed.

"I'm thrilled!" Slater exclaimed when it was over, and he bounded over to his lawyer, Eric Franz. "I'm really happy."

Still, he remained bitter over being dragged back to New York when he was supposed to be in London rehearsing a play.

"It just takes what it takes. This is the process. It just shows that someone can accuse you of anything," he said.

So what happened on that street at 2 a.m., Chris?

I asked if maybe the touching was innocent. A misunderstanding?

"That's what my publicist said," he told me. "The whole thing was a misunderstanding."

"So, are the women of New York safe from you now?" I said. And he glared at me. For a long time.

"I'm kidding!" I said, frightened. He still didn't smile.

"That was pretty funny. I liked it," he said, not smiling.

Then he skipped - I mean jumped, hopped, jumped - right out the door, like a giddy little girl.

And I used to have a crush on this guy.