JCOPE completes Lopez investigation
The Joint Commission on Public Ethics has finished its investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez. But JCOPE is facing some criticism for keeping details of the report secret. Zack Fink has more.
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NEW YORK STATE -- The allegations surfaced last August in a press release from the Assembly Speaker. It stated that The State of New York had paid more than $100,000 to women who claimed they were sexually harassed by Assemblyman Lopez. The matter was referred to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, which came into existence just last year. New allegations about Lopez's behavior have since surfaced.
"Here we have someone with documented cases of sexual harassment, not once, not twice. The newest is of a 14-year-old intern. So he needs to be held responsible," said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women.
JCOPE has now referred its report to the Legislative Ethics Commission, a bi-partisan panel that can issue penalties for misconduct. The chair of that commission is Staten Island Republican Senator Andrew Lanza, who would not discuss what is in the report. When we asked why those who have seen the report could not discuss it, we were told that state law prevents them from doing so. But when pressed further, an attorney for the commission offered no specific statute or documentation. Critics say the entire matter has been shrouded in secrecy from the very beginning.
Ossorio said, "This report should cover not only the sexual harassment allegations about Vito Lopez, but also the handling of those allegations of sexual harassment by the leadership."
The report does not appear to target Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who would have received a copy if he were named.
"Even if there is a majority of the commission finding something wrong. If the target is a member of the legislature and those majority appointees decide that the report is invalid, it's dismissed," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union.
The legislative ethics commission can sanction a legislator in several different ways. It can impose fines ranging from $10,000 to $40,000, it can refer its findings to a prosecutor if there is evidence crimes were committed, but according to an attorney for the commission, it cannot expel a member of the legislature.