By DANNY HAKIM
Published: September 6, 2012
ALBANY — State ethics regulators decided this week not to authorize a full-fledged investigation of use of public money by the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, to finance a confidential settlement with two women who said they were sexually harassed by Assemblyman Vito J. Lopez, people with knowledge of the inquiry said Thursday.
Instead, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has opted to focus its inquiry more narrowly on the conduct of Mr. Lopez, whose behavior is already being investigated by prosecutors in New York City and Albany.
The commission is likely to revisit the scope of its inquiry when it meets again at the end of the month, and could broaden it at that point.
The commission and its staff are barred from discussing inquiries; a spokesman had no comment Thursday.
The commission has already asked the Assembly, a lawyer representing women who said that they were harassed by Mr. Lopez and others involved in the settlement to preserve relevant records. Gloria Allred, a lawyer who represented two of the women, said she had received a subpoena from the commission.
But the decision this week, if it stands, means that the commission would not fully examine what many people see as the most pressing question: whether Mr. Silver or his staff acted inappropriately by authorizing the confidential settlement. The commission would be investigating only the conduct of Mr. Lopez, who has already been censured by the Assembly.
The ethics commission met on Tuesday to discuss the sexual harassment scandal, which centers on claims brought by four women against Mr. Lopez, who is also the chairman of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. Several government watchdog groups had asked the commission to look into Mr. Silver’s authorization of a $103,080 state payment to two of the women, and Mr. Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, had said that he welcomed such an inquiry.
“The speaker has made it very clear that he desires a thorough investigation by Jcope to get all the facts out regarding this matter and urges all the members of the commission to vote for a full inquiry,” Mr. Silver’s spokesman, Michael Whyland, said Thursday, referring to the joint ethics committee by its acronym. “A full investigation will show that all actions were legal and taken in good faith to protect the victims.”
While the commission’s staff pushed for a broader inquiry, the commission is made up of a mix of members, some appointed by the governor and others named by legislative leaders. According to people with knowledge of the deliberations, some of the legislative appointees, from both political parties, had concerns about having a commission dominated by a governor’s appointees look into the internal workings of the Legislature.
The investigation has been seen as a major test of the latest version of the state ethics commission, which was overhauled last year at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, in an attempt to improve enforcement and bring the Legislature’s ethical lapses under outside scrutiny for the first time.
The commission is a part of the executive branch of government, and this case is an early test of its members’ willingness to investigate reputed wrongdoing in the legislative branch, which zealously guards its independence.
The commission’s voting rules are complex. Before its staff could issue subpoenas in the Lopez case, it needed the support of a majority of its 14 members, including at least one of Mr. Silver’s three appointees.
The scandal began on Aug. 24, when Mr. Silver said he was censuring Mr. Lopez, 71, after a bipartisan Assembly Ethics Committee said it had found credible evidence that Mr. Lopez had groped, kissed and verbally harassed two female employees. Reports soon emerged that Mr. Silver had approved the settlement of similar claims against Mr. Lopez brought by two other women.
Mr. Lopez has denied any wrongdoing.
At least two formal complaints have been filed with the ethics commission — one by Common Cause New York and the New York City chapter of the National Organization for Women, and the other by Citizens Union. Both complaints asked for a review of Mr. Lopez’s conduct and an inquiry into the broader question of how Mr. Silver and the Assembly handled the settlement. “Voter confidence in our government has been shaken by this scandal,”Dick Dadey, the executive director of Citizens Union, said, adding, “The integrity of our democracy depends upon a full investigation of all parties, including Silver, into the handling of this matter.”
The complaint from Common Cause and the National Organization for Women said that “in contradiction to the Assembly’s stated procedures, the harassment allegations were not referred to any ethics oversight body.”
Posted by Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg at 9/07/2012
Mr. Lopez has denied any wrongdoing - Just Like Weberman
Rabbi Nuchem Rosenberg