With the current corruption scandal in Albany, it might be easy to forget about an ethics report on a sexual harassment case against a state assemblyman. Eight months after allegations of misconduct surfaced, that report still hasn't been made public, and there are new allegations that the Assembly is trying to censor that report. NY1's Zack Fink filed the following report.
The allegations of sexual harassment were against Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez, who is now likely running for City Council. They were claims that were ultimately settled quietly by the state, which paid out more than $100,000 in taxpayer funds to victims.
The details are still not known. The matter was referred to the state's Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, which only came into existence last year. JCOPE prepared a report, then passed it over to the legislative ethics commission.
"They might as well have referred it to the graveyard," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "The legislative ethics commission has, for decades now, done nothing. They don't seem if they are investigating. No one ever knows it. They never come out with anything."
An attorney for the legislature's commission told NY1 that it is prevented by law from releasing the report because there is a special prosecutor in the case, Daniel Donovan of Staten Island, who is conducting an independent investigation and has authority to keep it bottled up.
But the law doesn't exactly say that. The statute reads that law enforcement officials can request that a report be kept secret, but not necessarily demand it.
Now, it's been reported that the legislative ethics commission has asked for the report to be edited before being released to the public.
"The fact that they're trying to meddle in this process is shameful, and I hope that JCOPE has the spine to release it unedited," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union.
JCOPE has announced that it will release the full report by May 21 if the legislative ethics commission fails to do so before then.
Critics say the public has a right to transparency in the matter, which has been handled almost entirely in secret.
"That creates a real problem," Bartoletti said. "There's already a dark cloud, a deep shadow over this legislature."
Perhaps what was most notable about this story on ethics and secrecy is who would not speak to us. The list includes the co-chairs of the Legislative Ethics Commission, Assemblyman Charles Lavine and state Senator Andrew Lanza; Assemblyman Vito Lopez; and even Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell, the former ethics and guidance committee chairman.