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Eyes Are On State Ethics Commission's Handling Of Lopez Allegations

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The state's ethics commission has referred its report on the Vito Lopez sexual harassment scandal to the legislature, a report that is being closely watched, not only for how it deals with disciplining a sitting lawmaker, but also because it represents the first test case for the newly formed commission. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.

The allegations surfaced last August in a press release from the Assembly Speaker.

The release stated that the State of New York had paid more than $100,000 to women who claimed they were sexually harassed by Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

The matter was referred to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, which came into existence last year.

New allegations about Lopez's behavior have since surfaced.

"Here, we have someone who, documented cases of sexual harassment, not once, not twice," said Sonia Ossorio of the National Organization for Women "The newest is of a 14-year old intern. So he needs to be held responsible."

JCOPE has now referred its report to the Legislative Ethics Commission, a bipartisan panel that can issue penalties for misconduct. The chair of that commission is Staten Island Republican State Senator Andrew Lanza, who would not discuss what is in the report.

When NY1 asked why those who have seen the report could not discuss it, NY1 was 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.

"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," Ossorio said.

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 they believe a crime was committed. But according to an attorney for the commission, it cannot expel a member of the legislature.

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