Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, said in a statement this afternoon that he would “welcome” a state Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigation of a secret settlement his office made to settle an unknown legal claim. The Assembly paid $103,080 in taxpayer funds two months ago for the settlement.
“I would welcome a JCOPE investigation, as a JCOPE inquiry would supersede any confidentiality agreements that exist and allow all of the facts to come out. Those facts will show that any decision by the Assembly to enter into any settlement agreement was both legal and ethical and made out of deference to the wishes of the complainants,” said Silver, pictured here.
“In addition the Assembly has written to counsel in any previous settlement asking for a release from any confidentiality clauses that may exist so that we can legally and properly release to the public all information relating to any settlement and how it was reached,” he said.
The settlement was for a sexual-harassment complaint made against Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn, the New York Times reported. In July, two employees of Lopez’ district office filed a sexual-harassment complaint about the Brooklyn Democrat. Following an investigation by the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, Silver censured Lopez last Friday and stripped him of his committee chairmanship, reduced his allocation for staff and said Lopez could not have any under 21 working for him.
Lopez has denied the allegations. He has stepped down from his position as head of the Brooklyn Democratic Party but said he intends to keep his Assembly seat.
Silver said yesterday that it was “legally correct and ethical” decision to permit a confidential settlement rather than refer the matter to the Commission on Public Ethics, but it was the “wrong one from the perspective of transparency.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for a full investigation of the matter. Common Cause of New York and the National Organization for Women in the state said they intend to file a complaint over Lopez’ alleged misconduct with the Public Ethics Commission by tomorrow. Citizens Union, a good-government group, has also called for a probe.