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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.
Two female Assembly staffers have filed federal and state lawsuits against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The women allege that Lopez repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances. In one case Lopez reportedly told a staffer she should have sex with a Cuomo administration official to get a housing bill passed. The lawsuits allege that Silver provided "assistance" to Lopez that allowed him to continue harassing the women. Silver came to a secret settlement with two other women who Lopez harassed and allowed Lopez to hire the two staffers who have since brought other sexual harassment claims and these two lawsuits. The incidents have shined a spotlight on the culture of sexual harassment in Albany. Lopez resigned his seat after intense pressure and facing a vote that would have expelled him. He is still likely to face over $300,000 in fines from the legislative ethics board. Silver has apologized for his handling of the incident but has brushed off calls for his resignation.
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Two female Assembly staffers have filed a lawsuit against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
The lawsuit claims that Lopez sexually harassed both women and that Silver provided "assistance" that allowed the harassment to continue.
Silver's office reached a secret $103,000 settlement with two former Lopez staffers who accused him of sexual harassment but Silver did not stop Lopez from hiring more female staffers. The two women who Lopez fired have since come forward to detail their harassment and have now filed this suit. They are listed as current employees of the Assembly in the lawsuit.
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics issued a report last month that detailed a littany of alleged sexual misbehavior by Lopez but the panel did not look into Silver's role in keeping them out of public view.
Silver has apologized for his handling of the matter but has dismissed calls for his resignation. Calls to his office have not been returned. The incident has shined a spotlight on Albany's culture of sexual harassment.
The New York Times reported yesterday that a group of Assembly Republicans headed have called on federal prosecutors to investigate the "scandalous and allegedly criminal enterprises conducted by the Speaker of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver, and his staff."
The group wants an investigation into Silver's handling of sexual harassment cases over the years, including allegations against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
The letter, addressed to U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District, alleges: "Silver’s chief legal counsel and his deputy legal counsel violated the state’s sexual harassment policy by refusing to follow the mandatory reporting requirements with the Assembly Ethics Committee even though Silver and his staff originally drafted this compulsory rule."
A spokesman for Silver didn't immediately respond to a request for comment from the Gotham Gazette.
If Hartunian were to investigate, he wouldn't be the only U.S. attorney looking into Albany scandal. Preet Bharara, of the Southern District of New York, has more than a few Albany legislators running scared.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is weathering criticism for his handling of recently-resigned Assemblyman Vito Lopez's harassment suit. In response, he's announced plans to create an independent investigator for sexual harassment complaints and mandatory reporting of them. Many are calling for the speaker's resignation, including one Assemblyman who threatened to leave the Democratic conference if he didn't step down. Silver has apologized for authorizing a secret settlement in Lopez's harassment suit, but says resignation is "ridiculous." The scandal may have weakened his bargaining power, but he has a strong grasp on power in the state. Gov. Cuomo has reportedly decided not to call a special election to replace Lopez to keep him from wielding influence over his successor. The governor also says the harassment scandal proves the need for passage of his women's agenda.
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Albany watchers thought last year's legislative session was slow. Not so fast! This year has been even slower.
Bill Mahoney of the New York Public Interest Research Group has provided us with a breakdown of bills passed this year and at this point last year. Keep in mind that Mahoney has previously noted that 2012 was a year "when they passed the fewest two-house bills since at least 1914."
Mahoney also notes, "Of course, the total number of bills is only one way to measure a session’s success. The session will ultimately be judged by what they do on the biggest issues, including their response to the crime wave rocking the Capitol."
Passed Senate: 2952012 passed Senate through 5/19: 475 Passed Assembly: 2352012 passed Assembly through 5/19: 366...
Passed Senate: 2952012 passed Senate through 5/19: 475
Passed Assembly: 2352012 passed Assembly through 5/19: 366
Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the ugly sexual harassment scandal surrounding Assemblyman Vito Lopez is the perfect example of why legislators need to pass his 10-point women's agenda.
“I think it would be the height of hypocrisy for a body that just recognized the problem up close and personal within their own colleagues and to not take action,” Cuomo told reporters yesterday.
Cuomo has yet to issue a bill encapsulating all 10 points of the agenda, but it is known to include stiffer penalties for sexual harassment; anti-human trafficking measures; pay equality laws; and a more controversial provision that would encode a women's right to an abortion in state health law rather than in the criminal code.
Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters echoed Cuomo's sentiments earlier yesterday. "If anyone should be the poster boy for the women's agenda legislation Vito Lopez is it," Bartoletti said.
Bartoletti wants legislators back in Albany next week ready to pass the women's legislation as well as campaign finance reform. Otherwise she said all they will have from this session is "a legacy of scandal."
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.”
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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has faced a chorus of calls for his resignation for his handling of the Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal. Editorial boards, good government groups and Republican legislators have either demanded Silver step down or hold a leadership vote in the Assembly. A broader chorus is calling for Lopez's resignation.
Silver seems to be paying attention as his spokesman Michael Wyland issued a statement tonight saying that Silver, "intends to draft and introduce a resolution tomorrow, to 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."
Silver has called for Lopez to step down several times.
Earlier today Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters that if Lopez continues to refuse to resign, "I think the body should expel him. I think they should make a statement that says we do not tolerate this in our house."
Cuomo defended Silver. "I don’t see any comparison between what Vito Lopez and what Shelly Silver did,” Cuomo said. “There is a magnitude of difference," Cuomo said.
The state's ethics commission issued a report yesterday that not only detailed a torrent of inappropriate behavior by Assemblyman Vito Lopez but that tore into Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and his staff for shielding the lawmaker. At one point after two women made sexual harassment complaints against Lopez the report states that Silver's office relocated the women to other positions which enabled Lopez to hire two more women who he also harassed. The report details Lopez asking a staffer to give him eye drops for pink eye, demanding staffers share hotels with them, forcing them to feel his tumors, looking for a large apartment in Albany to share with one of them and perhaps most shockingly Lopez demanded a female staffer continue massaging his hand after the woman told Lopez she was uncomfortable because she had been raped in college. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics' report was released after a special prosecutor found no criminal wrongdoing by Lopez or Silver. Lopez issued a statement saying he was under attack by people wishing to destroy him. JCOPE's report was released by the legislature after facing mounting pressure. Members of the legislature also tried to redact large swaths of the report relating to the performance of Assembly staffers during the matter. JCOPE, which has members appointed by Silver, did not authorize an investigation into the behavior of Silver and the Assembly in the matter. Yesterday, Silver's spokesman defended him in a statement and Silver renewed his call for Lopez to resign.
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The Assembly and Speaker Sheldon Silver took a shellacking in reports today by Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan and the Joint Commission on Public ethics for their handling of sexual harassment charges against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
Donovan found that the secretive manner in which initial sexual harassment charges were handled against Lopez only "encouraged" the assemblyman to continue his pattern of harassment. According to JCOPE's report, two staffers who accused Lopez of harassment and filed complaints were moved off Lopez's payroll; Lopez then hired new female staffers and pressured them for intimate relationships.
Silver's office has undoubtedly been fielding a bevy of calls from reporters regarding the findings of both reports.
Silver's spokesman Michael Whyland issued a statement defending his boss saying, "A full review of the facts by both JCOPE and the Special Prosecutor has found that all actions by the Assembly were lawful and there was no basis for an ethics complaint against the Speaker or his staff."
Whyland also used the opportunity to reiterate that Silver has called for Lopez's resignation and still wants him to resign. "Given that the JCOPE investigation has found significant violations of the Public Officers Law by Assemblyman Lopez, Speaker Silver renews his call for him to resign," said Whyland in the statement.
A judge has ruled that the names of eight people who spoke on wiretaps with former state Sen. Shirley Huntley can be made public tomorrow.
Huntley, who pleaded guilty to funnelling tens of thousands of dollars in public money to a bogus charity that she operated, wore a wire for federal prosecutors for several months last year.
What makes Huntley's case so interesting is that prosecutors are arguing that the names should not be released because doing so could compromise ongoing investigations. Six of the eight people Huntley spoke to while wearing a wire are elected officials.
Judge Jack Weinstein wrote in his ruling that he isn't worried that revealing these names will ruin any cases.
"Every legislator who has conversed with this defendant will necessarily assume that he or she wasrecorded under the supervision of the FBI," he wrote. "There will be no surprises to the potentially accused by the revelations of their names. Interference with ongoing investigations will be of almost no significance."
A judge ruled on Wednesday for the city to extend its hotel program for displaced victims of Hurricane Sandy. The city had originally planned on kicking remaining 196 evacuess out of hotels on April 30 but an extensionwill give victims until May 15. Five Sandy evacuees filed a lawsuit to gain the extension on Monday. The city Department of Homeless Services provided hotel rooms to victims who did not qualify for the FEMA hotel program. The FEMA program had previously been extended untill May 29.
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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:
Corruption in Albany Means Tons of Cash For Legal Fees
State officials have spent nearly $7 million of campaign cash on legal fees related to criminal and ethics investigations into them since 2004 an analysis by The Daily News and the New York Public Interest Group finds. Senate Democrats have proposed a rule banning legislators from spending campaign cash on legal fees. The analysis found that lawmakers have spent $2 million of campaign cash on legal fees in the last two years alone. That spurt is boosterd by former Sen. Carl Kruger who spent $1.5 million of his campaign cash on legal fees. Kruger is currently serving seven years in prison after pleading guilting to a number of corruption charges. Other major spenders are former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, former Controller Alan Hevesi and Assemblyman Vito Lopez.
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Bronx Assemblyman Nelson Castro says he has been cooperating with federal and county prosecutors on public corruption cases for years.
Castro, a Democrat, announced today in a statement that he would be resigning from the Assembly after one of those cases was made public just hours ago with the arrest of fellow Assemblyman Eric Stevenson on federal charges that he accepted bribes.
Castro said in his statement that he had agreed to cooperate with the Bronx district attorney's office and the U.S. attorney's office for the Southern District of New York "in conjunction with various investigations aimed at rooting out public corruption." He said he began to cooperate with the Bronx district attorney's office in 2009 following an indictment on a civil matter. Castro was elected in 2008.
Stevenson, also a Democrat from the Bronx, was arrested this morning on federal charges that he accepted bribes. Stevenson's lawyer told The Times he is still reviewing the charges against his client and "would have no comment until he had done so."
The federal complaint against Stevenson refers to an "Assemblyman 1," which news reports have identified as Castro.
Deal on Paid Sick Leave
The city is set force companies that employ over 15 people to give full-time employees 5 compensated days off a year. The news comes as Council Speaker Christine Quinn who has blocked a vote on paid sick leave for years reached a deal last night with labor and business leaders. The law wouldn't take effect until spring 2014 and for the first 8 months it would only apply to businesses with 20 or more employees. Political pressure mounted on mayoral candidate Quinn over the last few weeks as her opponents and advocates attacked her on her refusal to bring the issue to a vote. Mayor Michael Bloomberg is opposed to paid sick leave and like Quinn has said it will hurt business. The council will have to vote on the legislation and likely override a veto from Bloomberg. “We have a good, strong and sensible piece of legislation that recognizes the needs of everyday New Yorkers and the realities that our struggling small businesses face,” Quinn said in a statement.
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The Capitol in Albany was swarmed by an estimated 5,000 gun advocates yesterday in a rally organized to protest Gov. Andrew Cuomo's New York Safe Act. The SAFE Act that expanded the definition of assault weapons, banned clips with 7 or more bullets and increased penalties for illegal gun possesion was championed by Cuomo after the shootings in Newtown, Conn.The predominantly male audience carried signs that compared Cuomo to Hitler and chanted "Cuomo's got to go." Many protesters traveled for miles from across the state. Cuomo and legislative leaders have said they do not plan any major changes to the Safe Act besides a few technical corrections. However, one Republican Senator Kathy Marchione has introduced a bill that would repeal most of the SAFE act. The repeal is unlikely to ever come to a vote as Senate Republican leadership supports the SAFE act. The New York Rifle and Pistol Association which organized the protest is working on a legal challenge to the SAFE Act that it plans to file next week.
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Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz is circulating a letter to his colleagues asking them not to reelect Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as Speaker, a position Silver has held since 1994.
"Mr. Silverâ€™s actions in covering the sexual improprieties of Assemblyman Vito Lopez with taxpayer dollars by means of the 'Miscellaneous Contractual Services' account go against everything that we should be united against in a bipartisan manner," Katz writes. "While we may disagree on how to govern, the people of the state of New York deserve to have an open, honest, and transparent government."
Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union recently documented how Silver and Assembly Democrats dodged any fallout from the Lopez scandal during the elections and actually added seats to their super-majority. It seems unlikely that Katz' effort will come to much but it keeps the scandal alive just a little bit longer. The matter is still reportedly being investigated by JCOPE.
Here is the full letter Katz is circulating among Assembly members:
To My Colleagues in the Assembly:...
To My Colleagues in the Assembly: