N.Y. Assembly Shielded Lopez From Sex Claims, Report SaysFreeman Klopott
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was more interested in protecting his chamber than female employees of fellow Democrat Vito Lopez who accused the Brooklyn lawmaker of sexual harassment, a special prosecutor said.
Daniel Donovan, the Staten Island district attorney, said in a seven-page report today that he won’t file criminal charges. Donovan, a Republican, was appointed special prosecutor in the investigation, which coincided with a similar probe by the state ethics commission. Both began in September after Lopez, 71, was stripped of his committee chairmanship and Silver said the Assembly had secretly settled harassment claims with two female employees for $103,000.
“Donovan’s decision not to seek criminal charges against Assemblyman Vito Lopez is a just and welcome end to this sad saga,” Gerald Lefcourt, Lopez’s attorney, said in an e-mailed statement.
Six weeks after Lopez signed the settlement in June, which included a confidentiality agreement he pushed for, two other female staff members complained of harassment to the attorney representing the Assembly majority, which is led by Silver, 69, according to a report by the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, which was also released today. The two other women were hired to replace the pair involved in the settlement.
“During the mediation and negotiation of the settlement, the chief concern of those in the Assembly was mitigating the Assembly’s damages,” Donovan wrote. “That goal outweighed any interest in investigating or disciplining Assembly Member Lopez or in preventing similar occurrences in the future.”
The women who won the settlement had also filed complaints with the majority’s attorney in December 2011 and January 2012, according to the ethics commission. Those complaints weren’t referred to the Assembly Ethics Committee, a move Silver endorsed, the commission report said.
In July, when the two other employees stepped forward, their complaints were sent to the ethics committee, which then removed Lopez from his role as head of the Assembly Housing Committee.
Michael Whyland, a Silver spokesman, said in an e-mailed statement that the speaker, who represents Lower Manhattan, is calling for Lopez to resign.
“It was a mistake not to immediately refer the initial complaints to the Assembly Committee on Ethics and Guidance, one that will not be repeated,” Whyland said. “The Speaker is deeply committed to ensuring that all our employees are treated with respect and dignity.”
That wasn’t evident in this case, the National Organization for Women, the largest U.S. group working to advance women’s rights, said today.
“The Assembly engaged in a shameful cover-up at great expense to all women who live and work in New York State,” NOW said in a statement. “It’s clear that neither the public interest, nor the interests of justice, were served.”
Deputy Chief Administration Judge for New York City Courts Fern Fisher appointed Donovan after Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes sought an order relieving him from responsibility in the case because of his political ties to Lopez.