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Speaker Silver to continue to fight lawsuit on public dime

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver attends

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver attends 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 -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Wednesday that he will push back against a federal judge’s refusal to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the powerful legislative leader over sexual harassment cases in the chamber.

“I think ultimately the facts will come out in the case and it will show that we acted in good faith on these cases,” Silver said.

Silver said the case will continue to be handled by a state-paid attorney, not a private counsel he would employ.

“It’s always been that way,” Silver said.

On Tuesday, a federal judge rejected Silver’s request to dismiss the lawsuit filed against him and former Assmb. Vito Lopez (R-Brooklyn). The judge found Silver doesn’t have immunity from facing the accusations simply because he was acting in his official capacity.

The lawsuit stems from 2012 accusations against Lopez by young, women staffers. Silver settled what was expected to be a claim for over $1 million against the Assembly for failing to protect the women from Lopez by settling the case for $103,000 in public funds.

The settlement was done in secrecy outside established procedure for such claims. Silver had claimed the deal was struck privately at the women’s request to shield their identity and protect their careers, a claim the women’s attorney later denied.

Weeks after that settlement, additional sexual harassment accusations were made against Lopez by other women staffers. Silver then quickly and publicly sanctioned Lopez.

Lopez has denied sexually harassing anyone. He resigned before Silver could begin a process to expel him from the Assembly.

The federal lawsuit says Lopez routinely engaged in "inappropriate and unwelcome physical contact" and accuses Silver of being more focused on keeping the women’s complaints quiet than investigating.

A special prosecutor assigned to the case, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, determined no "chargeable crime" occurred, but criticized Silver for his handling of the matter, which Donovan said was more about the "desire to shield the Assembly" than to protect victims.

Silver said the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy has recently been revised as part of his actions following the Lopez case and other sexual harassment accusations made in the chamber over recent years.

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