Assemblyman Vito Lopez outlined his defense to a series of sexual harassment claims in a 23-page document sent to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics earlier this year, claiming a series of text messages sent by his female employees — messages they claim they were forced to send — showed they enjoyed their jobs.
Lopez was the center of a 68-page report from the state’s ethics board Wednesday that outlined a history of stomach-turning harassment claims. He declined to testify, but his attorney submitted a written defense.
Late Wednesday, the Legislative Ethics Commission released thousands of pages of supporting documents on its website, including the document from Lopez’ attorney Gerald Lefcourt.
One of Lopez’ accusers, through her attorney, had said she wanted to keep her relationship with Lopez professional, but that he “repeatedly attempted to tum it into a sexual one.” Lefcourt claims it was the other way around.
“All but daily, she sent sexualized messages which showed that it was she who failed to maintain a professional mien,” Lefcourt wrote. “These include telling Mr. Lopez, ‘I had a really good time with you tonight’; ‘I really enjoy hearing you laugh and smile’; ‘I miss you and I can’t wait until next Sunday’; ‘I can’t wait until this week is over so I can see you’; and ‘I really love waking up and going to work just to be able to see you.'”
As detailed in the JCOPE report, no fewer than five of Lopez’ employees said Lopez forced them to send effusive text messages daily, telling him how much they enjoyed being around him and working for him. The employees said if the praise wasn’t up to Lopez’ standards, he would chastise them the next day.
Lefcourt disputed that notion, as well. He said it was “unremarkable” that Lopez would encourage his staff to communicate with him, and there is “no evidence that Mr. Lopez forced these women to write sexually explicit and highly inappropriate messages to him.”
Lopez’ attorney also took issue with an employee saying she felt intimated with Lopez as she said he tried to kiss her in an Atlantic City hotel room. Lopez, an imposing 71-year-old who stands at more than six feet tall, has dealt with various illnesses in recent years and is visibly weak, Lefcourt wrote.
“The notion that this 71 year old ailing man could alarm a 26 year old with his
ability to overpower her is not believable,” Lefcourt wrote. “Anyone who has seen Mr. Lopez knows he looks frail.”
Lopez’ defense is below. It begins on page 9.
(AP file photo / Mike Groll)