The Democratic leader of the state Assembly acknowledged Tuesday that a decision to confidentially settle a legal claim rather than refer it to investigators was “the wrong one from the perspective of transparency.”
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, had come under fire for his role in allowing a June settlement involving $103,080 in state funds to remain held from public view until this week. State records do not show what type of claim was settled or who received the money, but the agreement came just a few weeks before two Assembly employees filed separate sexual harassment complaints against longtime Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn.
In a statement issued late Tuesday, Silver said he now believes the chamber should not agree to any private settlements without first referring them to an ethics board or publicly acknowledging their existence.
“I am deeply committed to ensuring that all of our employees are treated with respect and dignity and I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the Ethics Committee,” he said.
Silver’s statement came hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on a state ethics board to investigate sexual harassment charges lodged against Lopez.
Here’s Silver’s full statement, released just after 6:30 p.m.:
“In July 2012, two employees in Assemblymember Vito Lopez’s district office filed a complaint about sexual harassment in the Assemblymember’s office. We referred the complaint promptly to the bipartisan Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance and acted swiftly on their recommendations last Friday.
However, it has been the opinion of Assembly counsel, which I endorsed, that if an employee or employees represented by counsel request a confidential mediation and financial settlement, the Assembly would defer to the employees’ desire for mediation and confidentiality and that this precluded referring their complaints to the bipartisan Committee on Ethics and Guidance.
While that opinion is both legally correct and ethical and can result in a resolution sought by complaining employees, I now believe it was the wrong one from the perspective of transparency. The Assembly (1) should not agree to a confidential settlement, (2) should insist that the basic factual allegations of any complaint be referred to the Ethics Committee for a full investigation and (3) should publicly announce the existence of any settlement, while protecting the identity of the victims.
I am deeply committed to ensuring that all of our employees are treated with respect and dignity and I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the Ethics Committee. Going forward I will work with independent experts and our Counsel’s office to ensure that we put in place policies that both protect the interests of victims and provide adequate transparency and accountability to the public.”