Editorial: Make sex-harassment payout details public

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke to Newsday in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke to Newsday in his office in the Capitol Building in Albany. (Jan. 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Ted Phillips

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The heat on Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver for approving a secret payout to quash a sexual harassment claim against a prominent colleague is well deserved. He was wrong to approve the use of more than $100,000 in public money to resolve the claim against Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), and doubly wrong for not making the settlement public.

Silver (D-Manhattan) has apparently seen the error of his ways. He acknowledged Tuesday that the seamy matter was handled inappropriately and said in the future such claims should always be referred to the Assembly Ethics Committee. Despite the mea culpa, the entire episode should be investigated by the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, as called for by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The cavalier lack of transparency here is a serious matter that demands serious attention. Silver issued a statement yesterday saying he welcomes an inquiry.

Lopez may be a serial offender. He was censured and stripped of a committee chairmanship Friday after the Assembly Ethics Committee found he sexually harassed two female staffers by subjecting them to unwanted kissing and groping. Lopez denies the allegations, although ethics officials found them credible. The case secretly settled in June involved a different sexual harassment claim brought by two additional women.

Silver said Tuesday he believed mediation and confidentiality were appropriate if sought by an employee represented by counsel. But the attorney representing at least one of the women said in news accounts that she never sought to avoid a formal investigation.

The public deserves to know exactly what happened here, why Silver paid up, if this was a legal use of public money and whether there have been other secret payoffs to make harassment claims disappear.

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