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. The Assembly (1) should not agree to a confidential settlement, (2) should insist that the basic factual allegations of any complaint be referred to the Ethics Committee for a full investigation and (3) should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims. I am deeply committed to ensuring that all of our employees are treated with respect and dignity and I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the Ethics Committee. Going forward I will work with independent experts and our Counsel’s office to ensure that we put in place policies that both protect the interests of victims and provide adequate transparency and accountability to the public.”
Today Lopez said he would relinquish his position as head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party but he refused to resign his Assembly seat.