Records: Cuomo OKd earlier secret settlement

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (March 27, 2012) Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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ALBANY -- Officials Tuesday released documents showing that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, while attorney general, approved a confidential settlement in a lawsuit accusing the state of racial discrimination.

The disclosure comes amid the ongoing tumult of the Assemb. Vito Lopez settlement scandal.

Cuomo's office approved a $49,000 settlement with a state Office of Mental Health employee in 2010 after he sued the state alleging racial discrimination on the job, according to documents released by the state attorney general's office in response to a request filed by Newsday under the state's Freedom of Information Law.

A Cuomo spokesman called the resolution of that lawsuit "completely different . . . on many levels" than the controversy surrounding a settlement regarding sexual harassment allegations against Lopez (D-Brooklyn).

Lopez was censured last month after two female former staffers accused him of sexual harassment. Subsequently, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) disclosed that two women had previously made similar charges and that he approved a confidential $135,000 settlement -- $103,000 of it taxpayers' money -- to end the case. Silver since has said he mishandled the case and should have sent it to an ethics committee hearing.

The controversy has sparked a civil inquiry by the state's ethics panel, and a criminal probe by a special prosecutor.

Some Republicans and the National Organization for Women have blasted Silver for agreeing to the confidential settlement.

Cuomo, along with numerous other public officials, has called on Lopez to resign, but the lawmaker has refused.

The governor also has disparaged the handling of the agreement, criticizing state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, whose offices consulted with Silver on legal language in the agreement.

Cuomo's settlement of the lawsuit against the state Office of Mental Health contains a passage stating the employee "shall keep confidential" the terms of the agreement. The attorney general's office represented the state and signed off on the pact.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said in an email that circumstances weren't parallel to the Lopez case in that "there were no elected officials involved, it was among civil service employees, [and] it was a public court action."

"Most of all, by definition, there can be no 'secret' settlements reached with . . . [state agencies]," Vlasto said, because -- unlike the State Legislature -- the executive branch of government is subject to FOIL.

"The legislature is not subject to the same FOIL provisions, which means settlement documents would not have to be produced; hence the Lopez case," he said.

Vlasto said neither Cuomo nor other "senior level" staff were involved in approving the 2010 settlement -- notable because a question in the Lopez case is whether Schneiderman knew about the Lopez settlement before it became public. His office says no.

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