As New York's Assembly tries to put the latest sexual harassment case against a member in the past, it confirmed on Monday that it used $103,000 of taxpayers' money to settle a previous claim against an unidentified public official.
The voucher doesn't identify who was paid the money or the public official it involved. It states "legal services — settlement" as a description. There was no public disclosure at the time of a sexual harassment finding by the chamber's ethics committee.
"The only instance in which a complaint would not be handled by the ethics committee would be if a victim insisted for reasons of personal privacy that it not go before the committee," said Michael Whyland, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "The Assembly would only keep such a matter confidential at the express insistence of the victim."
The Assembly policy does state a victim can choose to report sexual harassment directly to the speaker's office and the counsel of the speaker.
Whyland insisted the $103,000 settlement complied with the chamber's policy for handling sexual harassment, a policy that was tightened after several past incidents. He said this wasn't a cover-up of any incident to protect a member.
Whyland said that after a search of records, the voucher is the "only document that refers to a payment of a settlement agreement."
He also said the most recent sexual harassment complaint to become public, one against Assemblyman Vito Lopez, was reported in July. That case ended Friday when Silver rescinded Lopez's leadership posts and stipends.
Whyland wouldn't confirm or deny whether Lopez was involved in the settlement.
On Monday, Lopez released a statement saying he never sexually harassed anyone and he won't resign from office, despite pressure from Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer
In a separate teleconference with reporters, Cuomo defended settlements with public money to address misdeeds of public officials. He told reporters it is done frequently, and offered the case of the state paying a settlement if a worker is to blame for a car accident.
"That happens all the time," Cuomo said. "The state often pays for damages of public officials."
Cuomo, however, wouldn't comment on the Lopez case that has been in the headlines since he was censured on Friday.
"I don't know the facts in this situation ... it's the kind of situation where you need to know the facts," said Cuomo, who also heads the state Democratic Party.
Lopez, 71, denied the specific ethics accusations that he engaged in unwelcome verbal and physical conduct. The ethics committee said he put his hand on a staffer's leg and after she removed it tried to put his hand between her thighs; held a staffer's hand and played with her hair; and required both to write to him about how much they loved their jobs and cared about him.
"The charges made against me are unfair and untrue," Lopez said. "Never did I intentionally touch or attempt to kiss either of the complainants. I have never forced myself on anyone, nor would I."
"I have no intention of resigning and instead look forward to continuing to represent my constituents to the best of my ability," he said.
A call requesting whether any settlements using public money were paid out in sexual harassment cases by the Senate's Republican majority wasn't immediately returned.
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