Ethics Panel Sends Lopez Report to Legislature; Silver Reportedly Cleared of Charges

Speaker Silver at last weekend’s Firecracker Festival in Chinatown. Photo by Tim Schreier.

This week, there was some news on the ongoing investigation of the Vito Lopez sex harassment scandal and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the ordeal.  The state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics referred its recommendations to two Legislative panels but did not reveal the substance of those recommendations.

Multiple news organizations reported that Silver will not face charges as a result of the investigation.  The longtime Lower East Side Assemblyman admitted making mistakes in dealing with the sensitive situation.  He came under fire for approving payments to two of Lopez’s accusers.  As the Times noted, “there was widespread doubt that the (ethics commission) would take any action against Mr. Silver, since his appointees to the commission’s board have effective veto power over its investigations.”

Lopez Defies Sheldon Silver, Refuses to Step Down

Sheldon Silver is interviewed by reporters in Charlotte. Photo: Staten Island Advance/Tom Wrobleski.

As the Democratic National Convention moves into its third day in Charlotte, State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver continues to face tough questions from reporters about his role in the sex harassment scandal enveloping Assemblyman Vito Lopez.  Silver sat down with Liz Benjamin of Capital Tonight for a wide-ranging discussion about the upcoming Presidential Election, as well as “Vitogate.”  No big headlines but Silver did brush off a not-very-veiled attack from the Lopez camp yesterday.

Silver Asked Lopez to Resign; Speaker Keeps Leading Role in Charlotte

State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has gone to Charlotte, North Carolina for the Democratic National Convention but the controversy surrounding his handling of sexual harassment cases in Albany has followed him down south.  At the convention, Silver told the Daily News that he called embattled Assemblyman Vito Lopez Friday, and asked him to resign. “He basically was inaudible,” Silver explained. “I got the impression he didn’t appreciate my advice,” he said.

More than a week ago, it was revealed that the Assembly and Lopez quietly settled sexual harassment lawsuits for about $130,000.  Lopez was stripped of his chairmanship of the housing committee and agreed to step down as Brooklyn Democratic Party boss. Silver admitted that it was wrong to keep the settlements secret. 

Latest Developments: Speaker Silver Under Scrutiny

Here’s the latest on the controversy that erupted one week ago over Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s handling of the Vito Lopez sex harassment cases…

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has launched a preliminary investigation into the Speaker’s decision to authorize payments of $103,000 to two of Assemblyman Lopez’s accusers.  The state Attorney General’s office released documents yesterday showing the women had initially asked for $1.2 million to settle the cases.

Today the New York Times offers this assessment of the predicament facing the longtime Lower East Side lawmaker:

For 18 years, (Silver) has led the State Assembly, and presided as the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat. But he now faces an investigation by the (ethics panel), which is controlled by appointees and allies of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a fellow Democrat with whom he has had an uneasy relationship. Last year, state lawmakers approved the governor’s plan to expand the jurisdiction of the ethics commission to encompass the Legislature; the investigation of Mr. Silver’s office represents a largely unprecedented incursion by the executive branch into his chamber.

Sheldon Silver Faces More Criticism Over Handling of Harassment Cases

Sheldon Silver; file photo.

It has been a week of very bad press for State Assembly Sheldon Silver, who finds himself in the hot seat over his handling of Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s multiple sex harassment cases.  Here are the latest details.

In addition to a $103,000 secret payment to two Lopez accusers, it came to light yesterday that the victims received $32,000 from Lopez directly.  In the past day, Gloria Allred, an attorney representing the women, disputed Silver’s contention that a confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement prevented the Assembly from referring the case to its ethics committee. 

Silver Says Secret Settlement in Lopez Case Was “Wrong From the Perspective of Transparency”

As we reported this morning, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been under fire in the past 24 hours for a secret settlement in connection with the sexual harassment cases swirling around Assemblyman Vito Lopez.  Tonight the Speaker is out with a statement concerning the controversy and a change in policy:  “In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymember’s office.  We referred the complaint promptly to the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance and acted swiftly on their recommendations last Friday.  However, it has been the opinion of Assembly counsel, which I endorsed, that if an employee or employees represented by counsel request a confidential mediation and financial settlement, the Assembly would defer to the employees’ desire for mediation and confidentiality and that this precluded referring their complaints to the bipartisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance.  While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency. 

Sheldon Silver Faces Scrutiny Over Handling of Vito Lopez Sex Harassment Cases

Vito Lopez.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is in the media spotlight today following new reports regarding his handling of the Vito Lopez sexual harassment controversy.  On Friday it was announced that Assemblyman Lopez, Brooklyn’s powerful Democratic Party boss, was censured in connection with harassment allegations brought by two women.  Silver stripped Lopez of his chairmanship of the housing committee.  Then last night it was confirmed that Silver authorized a secret payment of more than $100,000 to settle at least one other claim against Lopez.

Many key elected officials, including the governor and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, have urged Lopez to step down. He has refused.  Dick Dadey of the advocacy organization Citizens Union has called for an independent investigation of the payment.  “Taxpayers should be funding public education, not (sweeping) harassment charges aside for bad elected officials,” he told the New York Times.  In today’s newspaper, Times reporter Danny Hakim wrote:

The revelation about the amount of money that the Assembly paid to quietly settle a harassment case is sure to further stoke debate about the handling of harassment cases by Mr. Silver, the Legislature’s most powerful Democrat for the last 15 years. Officials familiar with the Assembly said they knew of no precedent for such a secret payment…