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Judge dismisses suit against Sheldon Silver

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver at the State of the State address at the Empire State Plaza and Convention Center in Albany on Jan. 8, 2014. (Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.)

ALBANY -- A state judge Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit against Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, saying the powerful leader is immune from challenge to his once-secret $103,000 settlement that ended the first sexual harassment claims against then-Assemb. Vito Lopez.

State Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O'Connor ruled that government officials making discretionary decisions have immunity from such civil suits challenging their actions.

Robert Schulz, a private citizen from Queensbury, sued Silver over the 2013 deal that settled ended the first accusations against Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat. Shortly after the settlement, Lopez was accused by more of his women staffers of sexual harassment, prompting Silver to discipline him.

Lopez denied sexually harassing anyone, but left the Assembly shortly before Silver could begin an effort to expel him.

"The decision is tortured, twisted and perverted," Schulz said Tuesday in an interview. He said he will take action to reinstate the suit, calling the ruling a "fraud and treason to the constitution" because O'Connor never ruled on what he saw as clear violations of the state constitution.

Schulz said Silver violated the constitution by using taxpayers' money for a "private undertaking," barred by state laws.

Silver declined to comment.

The judge cited the "doctrine of governmental immunity." She wrote in her decision Friday that "when official action involves the exercise of discretion, the officer is not liable for the injurious consequences of that action."

O'Connor said "approval of the expenditure of state funds for the settlement of sexual harassment and discrimination claims asserted by Lopez's staff members against the Assembly was discretionary in nature.

"As such [Silver] is immune from civil liability, and the complaint against him must be dismissed."

She also said only a challenge to a fiscal issue could be considered in court. The judge said the payment using state money for the settlement wasn't a fiscal issue.

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