Connect with Us Facebook Twitter
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has named Judge Renee R. Roth to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics. The move comes after the sudden resignation of another of Silver's appointees to the commission.
The ethics panel announced that Pat Bulgaro had submitted his resignation by letter during their meeting yesterday. The panel would not say when the letter was sent and Bulgaro did not give a reason for his departure.
Silver and his appointees on JCOPE have been the subject of intense scrutiny following the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. A number of good government groups and legislators called for JCOPE to investigate Silver's handling of the matter given the fact that Silver settled one complaint against Lopez in secret. Instead, it appears JCOPE looked only at Lopez's behavior.
Silver's appointees could have voted to block an investigation into their boss but JCOPE's actions are not subject to public meeting laws, so only JCOPE knows and they aren't talking.
Silver is supposed to file paperwork declaring any professional or personal relationship he might have with Roth.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has lifted the veil on how legislators make their outside income and, perhaps, where their loyalties lie. Legislators all make a salary of $79,500 a year for their work and are reimbursed for travel. Many also earn stipends for their positions on committees.
The filings drawing the most interest from journalists and advocates are from legislative leaders who are also known to work for law firms — Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and Independent Democratic Conference head Jeff Klein.
According to his filings, Silver makes at least $350,000 and up to $450,000 a year as council at Weiz & Luxenberg. Silver has long been criticized for acting in the interest of trial lawyers.
Silver was recently attacked for killing changes to the citys' scaffolding law that would have allowed juries to consider whether the action of workers had any impact on accidents. Current law puts the onus on the shoulders of the building owners and contractors. The changes were seen as detrimental to trial lawyers. Skelos pulls down $150,000 to $250,000 a year as council for Ruskin Moscou Faltischek. The law firm recently set up a lobbying branch.
Klein earns between $50,000 and $75,000 a year in guaranteed payments from his law firm Klein Calderoni & Santucci LLP.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced he is moving to expel Assemblyman Vito Lopez last night. Silver, facing a firestorm of criticism for his office's handling of the Lopez sexual harassment scandal is looking to take decisive action as soon as Monday. Silver refused to expel Lopez last year as the scandal broke but stripped Lopez of his seniority and committee assignments. Now, with more criticism focused on his office following the release of the Joint Commission on Public Ethic's damning report, Silver says he plans to introduce a resolution that according to his spokesman Michael Whyland will be, "voted on Monday to ask the Ethics & Guidance Committee to consider the full JCOPE report and to recommend appropriate sanctions including expulsion of Assemblymember Lopez." Earlier Thursday Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters the Assembly shouldconsider expelling Lopez. “The reaction from the legislature should be zero tolerance,” Cuomo said. “If he doesn't resign, he should be expelled.”
Other Stories We're Following
City to Sell Councilwoman's Debt to Collectors (Daily News)
Voting Machine Firm Offers City Help in Upcoming Election (Daily News)
Lopez's Girlfriend Sticks With Her man (Daily News)
Who is state Sen. John Sampson? This morning, everyone knows Sampson as the man who turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to face multiple charges for embezzling money he was in charge of as a lawyer to fund his ill-fated run for Brooklyn District Attorney.
But Samspon has long been a player in Albany, and rumors of corruption have swirled around him for years.
Elected to his seat in 1996, Sampson has worked as an attorney for Alter & Barbaro, Esqs., since 1994. For a while Sampson was the answer for all the Senate Democrats' problems and became one of the most powerful men in Albany.
In 2009, during the Senate coup, the Democratic conference elevated Sampson to conference leader (a position that had previously not existed) in a bid to return Sens. Hiram Monserrate and Pedro Espada to the fold.
Sampson's time as a leader of a majority conference was brief; Democrats lost their majority in 2010.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics released a statement threatening to make the findings of their investigation into disgraced Brooklyn powerbroker and Assemblyman Vito Lopez public.
JCOPE has been looking into the scandal involving sexual harassment allegations against Lopez that led Speaker Sheldon Silver to pay out a settlement to Lopez's accusers and eventually strip Lopez of his legislative perks. JCOPE finished its investigation and forwarded it to the Legislative Ethics Commission according to the law so that they can measure punishment for Lopez and possibly Silver.
But Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan requested earlier this year that the Legislative Ethics Commission refrain from releasing the report as he continues a criminal investigation into Lopez. But JCOPE isn't interested in waiting. JCOPE has been accused of being a toothless watchdog in the past weeks as legislative corruption scandals have bloomed.
The ethics panel says it will go ahead and release its findings if the Legislative Ethics Commission doesn't.
Here is JCOPE's statement:
Gov. Andrew Cuomo took to his official radio show this morning to have host Fred Dicker vet his latest policy ideas, including possible reforms to the state's ethics panel. Cuomo said he wants a,â€ścampaign finance reform special session, and a JOPE reform special session.â€ť
JCOPE was signed into law last Summer and only started functioning this past winter and yet reforming the organization is already on tap.
Cuomo has been floating a series of ideas for a special session of the state Legislature that is expected to take place in November, including pay raises for legislators even though legislators are doing their best to convey just how horrible an idea they think pay raises would be.
Other possible ideas include a minimum wage hike, making the Legislature subject to Freedom of Information Laws, strengthening gun laws, decriminalizing certain amounts of marijuana and somehow reforming public financing of campaigns.
â€śWe have a legislative agenda that has not been passed, which is the priority for me,â€ť Cuomo said earlier this month at a graduation of the newest class of State Troopers. â€śIf there is an opportunity for the Legislature to act, Iâ€™m going to be looking for them to act on the peopleâ€™s agenda. I understand they may have an interest in a pay raise. Iâ€™m interested in a peopleâ€™s agenda and thatâ€™s what the session would be about.â€ś
The National Organization for Women and Common Cause New York rallied today to call for a broader investigation into the "culture of sexual harassment in Albany."
The groups outlined a list of expectations for the Joint Commission on Public Ethic's investigation into the Assembly's handling of the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal.
"JCOPE has an opportunity to prove itself by conducting a real investigation which reveals how pervasive the problem is, whether other instances of sexual harassment were properly addressed as well as bringing forth the full facts of who knew what and when they knew it. A hurried report which fails to address the full scope of the Assembly, and Mr. Lopez's, wrong doing is unacceptable," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, in a statement.
Its unclear at the moment how far JCOPE's investigation will go into the sexual harassment scandal, but a spokesman for the commission told the Wall Street Journal that the probe would be thorough.
â€ťAs with any investigation undertaken by the Joint Commission, the evidence is followed wherever it may lead," spokesman John Milgrim said.
In response to criticism of its initially limited investigation into the sexual harassment scandal, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has expanded its probe beyond Assemblyman Vito Lopez to include Assembly Speaker Silver, Attorney General Schneiderman and Comptroller DiNapoli. The decision was made in private as prescribed by law and gleaned from the subjects of the investigation. But board members wanted to publicly counter claims that there were attempts to block certain investigations. Gov. Cuomo has said he is open to some changes in the board and also said he'd form his own commission to probe the matter if the board fails.
More stories in the press:
New York is lagging as seas and risks rise, critics warn
Officials reach agreement on 9/11 Memorial Museum
On heels of criticism, elections board tests new election night closing process
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics may be considering an expansion of their probe into Assemblyman Vito Lopez's sexual harassment suit. Ravi Batra, a member of the commission, quit over the weekend, claiming the board had no independence. He also said good government groups were more concerned with Albany access than real reform. The attorney general and comptroller have been playing down their roles in the settlement. Also, a new accuser - who is also a candidate for State Senate - says she was the victim of sexual harassment when she worked in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.
More stories in the press:
Number of children in city's homeless shelters hits 19,000
Feds ready to recognize 9/11 cancer link
Ex-speaker spared $400,000 in lobbying fines
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted yesterday to open a formal investigation into the sexual harassment scandal surrounding Assemblyman Vito Lopez, according to The Post. But there could be a delay in that probe if prosecutors ask the board to wait until they are finished with their own investigation. Meanwhile, Lopez derided Assembly Speaker Silver's call for him to resign 'self serving.'
In the Press...
Lunch trays got too lean in cityâ€™s fight against fat (NY Times)
Map: City Council prepares for redistricting (WNYC)
Activists call for more Latino and Asian-American council districts (Daily News)