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Silver Regrets "Confidential" Lopez Settlement
August 28th, 2012

In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopezs district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymembers 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 Counsels 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.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been facing intense scrutiny about the Assembly secretly reached a financial settlement with two women who claim to have been sexually harassed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The Assembly paid the women $103,000 and the Assembly ethics committee laterrecommended Lopez be censured. In a late evening press release Silver’s office explains the series of events and says from now on financial settlements with employees should be made public.

“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,” said the statement from Silver.

Of course other questions about the whole affair linger–like, “Why wasn’t the entire matter referred to the newly formed Joint Committee on Public Ethics?” Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for JCOPE to look into the charges against Lopez.

Silver’s statement says his office was alerted to the allegations in July 2012 but the New York Times has reported that the settlement was paid on June 13 2012.

Lopez resigned his position as the head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party earlier today but refused to resign from the Assembly. Here is the full statement from Silver’s office:

“In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopezs district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymembers 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 Counsels 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.”

By on August 28, 2012, 7:11 pm
In category: Albany,Eye on Albany | Comments Off

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