WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
The state paid more than $104 million in lawsuit settlements for everything from slip and falls to sexual assault for the fiscal year that ended in March, according to records provided to WNYC by the state under the Freedom of Information Law.
New York paid more than $5.2 million to settle 15 sexual harassment cases from 2008 to 2010, records show.
Public outcry over the secret payment of more than $100,000 to settle two sexual harassment suits against Assemblyman Vito Lopez sparked recent debate about just how the state settles its legal claims.
Each year, New York pays out tens of millions of dollars to resolve claims brought both by state employees and the public.
A top official with state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office said it's difficult to find a publicly available breakdown of these pay outs by agency or even what prompted the lawsuits.
Records show the state paid out more than $75 million for the last eight months of 2011 and was expected to pay an additional $28 million in the first three months of 2012.
Manhattan State Senator Liz Krueger said there should be full disclosure of which agencies were sued, on what grounds and how much their settlements cost taxpayers.
“It is in the best interest of the public and, in fact, government to allow all of us to understand what [is] generating the type of complaints that the State of New York must make pay outs," Krueger said.
By contrast, in New York City, the city comptroller is tasked with generating a bi-annually released report with specifics on the payouts made on the behalf of all city agencies along with a detailed analysis of every agency's efforts at reducing the number of suits filed.
Corporate counsel cannot settle any claims without approval of the city comptroller. The state comptroller only gets the settlement figures after they have been finalized in court or parties to the cases have settled with the state attorney general’s sign off.
The state comptroller must make the payments unless they are deemed illegal.
Attorney Terence Kindlon recently won a case on behalf of a former female inmate of Albion State Prison who says she was raped in jail by a state Department of Corrections officer who was subsequently charged and convicted in the case. He does not yet know what the award will be.
Kindlon said officials don't take responsibility for the payouts or the behavior that made them necessary.
"It's not their money. I think that's it,” he said. “If you’re in a corporate setting, you’re responsible for the money spent on your watch. With the state, the money just flows like when you turn a light on and there's electricity."