Silver Says He'd Welcome Investigation Into Harassment Payoff

In a rare about face, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said Tuesday that he was wrong to handle a $103,000 settlement in a sexual harassment case against Assemblyman Vito Lopez outside the ethics committee system and would welcome an independent investigation into the matter.

Silver said Wednesday afternoon that he would "welcome" a Joint Commission on Public Ethics investigation "as a JCOPE inquiry would supersede any confidentiality agreements that exist and allow all of the facts to come out."

The speaker said the JCOPE investigation would show the agreement was "both legal and ethical."

Silver said that although the handling of the claim complied with the law and wishes of the victims, he now believes the process conflicted with the transparency needed in government.

In an earlier statement, Silver said the Assembly should not agree to confidential settlements and that allegations should be referred to the ethics committee for investigation.

“I am deeply committed to ensuring that all of our employees are treated with respect and dignity and I take full responsibility in not insisting that all cases go to the Ethics Committee,” Silver said.

Attorney Gloria Allred, who is representing one of the victims, took issue with Silver's statement saying talking with lawyers for an alleged victim isn't a substitute for an investigation. "The state legislature is not above the law which requires that all complaints of sexual harassment and sex discrimination be fully and promptly investigated and that appropriate remedial action be taken if sexual harassment or discrimination has occurred," she said.

Also on Tuesday, Lopez, 71, said he would not seek re-election to Brooklyn Democratic Party chair -- but he stopped short of resigning.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an independent investigation into the incidents by the state’s ethics board on Tuesday.

“JCOPE should do an investigation of the allegations that have been made,” Cuomo said. “and then let’s have the facts.”

Colby Hamilton and the Associated Press contributed reporting