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Silver: Assembly lawyer mishandled harassment case

Assembly Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver walks

Assembly Speaker of the House Sheldon Silver walks the assembly floor as the New York State Assembly finishes up passing bills as the legislative session draws to a close at the Capitol Albany. (June 21, 2013) Credit: Albany Times Union

ALBANY - A top state Assembly lawyer will step down after he failed to advance for investigation a sexual harassment claim four years ago about another Democrat, according to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who himself has been under fire for mishandling harassment claims.

Bill Collins, counsel to the Assembly majority, was notified about potential harassment claims by staffers of Assemb. Micah Kellner (D-Manhattan) in 2009 but didn't advance the complaints to the chamber's Ethics Committee, as required by a Silver policy.

The allegations against Kellner involved suggestive and flirtatious comments but no physical harassment, according to The New York Times, which first reported the accusations. Kellner is now running for New York City Council.

Collins will soon leave his post, said Silver spokesman Michael Whyland.

"Speaker Silver was not informed by Bill Collins about this matter at the time, and he feels the matter should have been handled differently," Whyland said in a statement.

Whyland said Assemb. Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) first brought the issue to Silver's attention on June 7, and Silver "immediately referred it to the Assembly Ethics Committee for a full and independent review."

"Pursuant to the reforms to the Assembly ethics process announced by the Speaker in May, all sexual harassment complaints against members, including this issue, will be handled solely by independent counsel working at the direction of the bipartisan Ethics Committee, and neither the Speaker nor Assembly central staff will have any role in any investigations," Whyland said.

Silver had a "conversation with Mr. Collins and he will be leaving the Assembly's employ," Whyland said.

Silver (D-Manhattan) has been criticized heavily over the past year after admitting he mishandled sexual harassment complaints against ex-Assemb. Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat. Silver approved a confidential settlement with Lopez -- funded with $103,000 in taxpayer money -- instead of forwarding the complaints to the ethics committee.

Lopez denied the allegations but resigned just as the Assembly prepared to expel him from the chamber. Lopez is now running for New York City Council.

Silver met earlier this year with women Assembly Democrats, who emerged largely saying they backed the longtime Assembly leader. Some Republicans and two Assembly Democrats have called on Silver to resign. One outspoken Silver critic said he doubted the claim that the Speaker only recently learned of the complaint against Kellner.

"Silver's office is claiming that Silver was never told about the allegations. But nothing happens in the Assembly without Silver knowing," said Assemb. Kieran Michael Lalor (R-Fishkill).

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