Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, who’s come under heat since revelations emerged that he used over $100,000 taxpayer money to confidentially settle a sexual harassment claim against Assemblyman Vito Lopez, issued a statement this evening expressing regret over the way it was handled. After settling that claim, of course, two more staffers of Mr. Lopez presented sexual harassment charges, which were found to be credible and led to his downfall as chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.
It’s a somewhat surprising announcement from Mr. Silver, who often tends to be slow to embrace change. For example, the State Assembly once closed a sexual assault investigation into Michael Boxley, a top aide to Mr. Silver, only to have rape charges emerge against Mr. Boxley in 2003, two years later.
Nevertheless, the shock of Mr. Lopez’s implosion seems to have genuinely what may be a more transparent process in handling these sorts of allegations in the future.
“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,” Mr. Silver said. “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.”
View the full statement below:
“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.”