ALBANY -- A retired engineer took New York's powerful Assembly speaker to court yesterday, accusing him of using $103,000 in taxpayer money to protect his own political interests by secretly settling sexual harassment claims involving a fellow lawmaker.
Robert Schulz, who is not a lawyer but who has challenged governors for decades in court, asked a state judge to require that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reimburse taxpayers for the 2012 settlement. Silver brokered the deal to end claims against Assemb. Vito Lopez, a Brooklyn Democrat.
Schulz alleged the secret settlement was intended to protect Silver's powerful position and violated the constitution by using public money for a "private undertaking." An attorney for the Assembly, meanwhile, argued Schulz lacks the legal standing to proceed with his case.
Acting Supreme Court Justice Kimberly O'Connor said she will issue a written decision on the Assembly's request.
But there were plenty of fireworks in that hour of arguments.
"We are not governed by the rule of whim, or the rule of man," Schulz said. "We are governed by the rule of law."
Silver approved the settlement to end the first set of sexual harassment claims against Lopez. The deal avoided the Assembly's ethics committee process, which Silver had said spared the women from being identified publicly.
However, the women said they never sought secrecy. Lopez was accused shortly after the settlement by more young, female staffers. Months later, Silver publicly stripped Lopez of his perks and power of seniority.
"We're comfortable that the payment is lawful and that the complaint is going to be dismissed," said Chris Massaroni, the Assembly's attorney, after the court appearance.
Massaroni disputed Schulz's claim bypassing the Assembly's internal policies are the same as violating the constitution.