Sheldon Silver: No decision on Vito Lopez lawsuits
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Monday no final decision has been made on whether the state attorney general will represent him in two sexual-harassment lawsuits filed by former staffers against the speaker and ex-Assemb. Vito Lopez.
The lawsuits, filed in federal and state courts last week, claim that Lopez (D-Brooklyn) routinely groped and harassed young female staffers and that Silver (D-Manhattan) abetted Lopez by quietly settling similar claims made by previous Lopez staffers.
Asked if Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, also a Democrat, would represent him or if he'd turn to outside counsel, Silver said: "The matter is in litigation and is being sent to the attorney general as is every litigation against a state officer. . . . We have not concluded with the attorney general, but it is the ordinary course of business."
It was Silver's first comment to the media since the lawsuits were filed. He addressed the subject after emerging from a 90-minute meeting with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other leaders about casinos and other issues.
To date, the bulk of the 104 other Democrats in the Assembly have voiced support for Silver, who has led the chamber since 1994. Asked if he's talked to members, Silver said they "have been supportive."
Schneiderman's office couldn't immediately be reached to comment.
The Lopez scandal broke last summer when an Assembly ethics panel censured him, announcing that it had determined he sexually harassed two employees. Days later, Silver disclosed that two previous claims against Lopez had been settled in a confidential agreement that included $103,000 in public funds and $32,000 from Lopez.
A subsequent civil inquiry determined Lopez' conduct violated the public officers law. When the Assembly announced it would consider expulsion, Lopez resigned, effective May 20.
A separate criminal prosecutor, Staten Island District Attorney Daniel Donovan, determined no "chargeable crime" occurred, but criticized Silver's handling of the matter, which Donovan said was more about the "desire to shield the Assembly" than to protect victims.
Lopez has maintained that Donovan's determination clears him and that he resigned only because he wants to run for New York City Council. He claimed the ethics investigation amounted to "an all-out war against an ailing senior member," referring to his cancer.Last week, the state Legislative Ethics Commission indicated it would seek more than $300,000 in fines against Lopez -- $10,000 for each instance of misconduct, sources said.
Silver has admitted to committing a "glaring" error and proposed policy changes in the wake of the scandal.