Last Updated: 9:23 PM, August 30, 2012
Posted: 9:10 PM, August 30, 2012
ALBANY — Women staffers who accused New York Assemblyman Vito Lopez of sexual harassment had originally sought $1.2 million in damages from public money before Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver negotiated a $103,000 settlement, according to emails obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.
The records also show that Silver, accused by some of a cover-up to protect Lopez, had extensive help from outside the chamber in crafting the legal settlement that had been cloaked in a confidentiality agreement until Thursday. The records show Silver's counsel worked through three drafts of the settlement with staff from the Attorney General’s Office and state Comptroller’s Office.
The documents appear to show a larger role in the Assembly sex harassment settlement by the Attorney General’s and Comptroller’s offices than those offices previously stated. Spokesmen for Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli have said lower-level workers had little say in the settlement and no power to question or stop it.
But the emails show days of back-and-forth conversations with attached drafts of the settlement.
In a May 30 email, an Assembly attorney wrote to an assistant attorney general and a comptroller's attorney: “Attached is my third effort at getting this thing right. I hope it works — at least, as our initial position ... we will certainly run any material change by you before we agree to it. Thank you for all your help.”
That third draft included the final cash figure, $103,080, paid by the Assembly in June.
The agreement also requires the accusers and their attorneys to keep quiet about the deal ending the sexual harassment claims.
The accusers agreed not to “communicate ... any disparaging remarks, comments or statements in any form concerning aspect, circumstance or incident involving their employment in the office of Member of Assembly Vito Lopez.”
The agreement also states it isn’t an “admission of any sort” that Lopez “acted improperly or unlawfully.”
Silver defended the settlement alone until earlier this week when Gov. Andrew Cuomo recommended the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigate the case using its subpoena power. Silver had immediately welcomed JCOPE's involvement, saying subpoenas could pierce the confidentiality agreement and show the settlement was “legal and ethical.”
But Silver also said the settlement conflicted with the transparency needed in government and he won’t again mediate a case outside the Assembly ethics committee. That committee censured Lopez last week based on a second round of sexual harassment accusations by other women staffers.
The emails also show Lopez paid $32,000 to the women.
On Thursday, Gloria Allred, the lawyer for women in the settlement, called for a wide probe of Silver’s role in the matter. JCOPE plans a special meeting Tuesday.
Her call was joined Thursday by a good-government advocate and Democratic senator.
“The speaker, through his own statements and his spokespeople, has repeatedly implied that the women who brought the claims against Mr. Lopez sought only a settlement for financial gain and that they requested that no investigation occur,” Allred said.
“That is false,” she said. “An investigation should be conducted a.s.a.p.”
Silver has said he approved the settlement at the insistence of the victims who sought a mediated solution with a confidentiality provision, rather than an investigation by the Assembly ethics committee.
Democratic State Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan said that since Lopez was censured a week ago, several lawmakers claimed sexual harassment by the 28-year-veteran of the Assembly was “common knowledge, and no one was doing anything to stop it.”
“I think both in reality and in perception, there is a culture within the highest levels of government in this state — the legislative and the executive — that we are above the rules and the law and that these kinds of outrageous behavior can be tolerated for extended periods of time because we are individually elected and nothing can be done about it.”
Bill Samuels, founder of the New Roosevelts reform group, said JCOPE should look at how to improve the settlement process. He said he doesn’t believe Schneiderman nor DiNapoli would have personally approved the settlement, “but I do believe that someone in the middle didn't have it on their radar because it’s so common. We need to learn from this.”
א באנדע גנבים - A Bunch of Thieves
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg
Eric Schneiderman|NY State Assembly.|Sheldon Silver|Thomas DiNapoli|Vito Lopez|