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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Vito Lopez scandal likely to spare Sheldon Silver

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, walks with Assemblyman

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, left, walks with Assemblyman Vito Lopez, to an affordable housing news conference at the Capitol in Albany. (April 18, 2012) Credit: AP

The long political career of Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) has crashed and burned in phases since the middle of last year.

Some of the debris hit Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan). He's admitted for months that when two female staffers claimed sex harassment in Lopez's office, the chamber's ethics committee should have been notified to investigate. Instead, a confidential settlement was crafted with $103,000 paid by the Assembly and $32,000 paid by Lopez. Only later, when new complainants from Lopez's staff came forward, were official probes launched.

Despite calls from political detractors for Silver's ouster, his allies cite last week's graphic and extensively detailed findings from the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics as offering at least some legal and bureaucratic rationale for the initial misstep.

They note that, according to the report, Bill Collins and Carolyn Kearns in the Assembly majority counsel's office initially sought to establish whether the first harassed staffer intended to trigger a full investigation by sending Assembly administrator Yolande Page a copy of an email to Lopez slamming his bizarre behavior.

They heard back weeks later. Lawyer MariannWang contacted Silver's aides and said she and attorney Gloria Allred were representing the woman and a fired colleague. Wang, in her letter, offered to resolve the harassment matter "through a confidential mediation process" -- and also said the Assembly and Lopez were to refrain from "discussing these allegations further with our clients directly."

Silver aides, including counsel Jim Yates, took up this "confidential process" offer. They also took Wang's letter to mean that the complainant wasn't to be questioned in an Assembly ethics probe.

But the ethics commission also blows a huge hole in that presumption. When interviewed, Silver, Yates, Collins and Kearns "acknowledged that nothing in Wang's letter, or the law, precluded the Assembly from asking Wang if her clients would consent to be interviewed for an investigation," the report said. The officials conceded they never asked Wang that question.

The scandal blew open last July after new complaints arose from subsequent staffers. What evidently was habitual harassment by the longtime Brooklyn party boss apparently could no longer be treated with a secret agreement.

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