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Thursday, June 20, 2024 | Back issues
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Disgraced Ex-Speaker Silver Ducks Civil Suit

(CN) - While a federal jury had coal for the politician's stocking, a New York appeals court left a tiny present under ex-New York Assemblyman Sheldon Silver's tree this year right before the holidays.

Silver lost his office last month after a jury found he accepted millions in bribes, but he caught a break on Christmas Eve in civil litigation that long predates his federal corruption charges.

For more than two years, Silver had been battling allegations that he inappropriately covered up for a colleague's sexual harassment of two female staffers.

In their federal complaint in Manhattan, Victoria Burhans and Chloe Rivera accused Silver, then speaker of the New York state Assembly, of having "fostered a culture of sex-based discrimination" that allowed Assemblyman Vito Lopez to take advantage of them.

Libertarian activist Robert Schulz brought another lawsuit in Albany a week later, charging that Silver had inappropriately spent $103,000 in public money on a confidential settlement to clear the Assembly of liabilities as the women's employer.

Earlier this year, Silver entered into another settlement with the women to resolve his personal liability. Meanwhile an appeals court focused on Schulz's standing to challenge Silver's expenditure of taxpayer money.

An Albany County Supreme Court judge found last year that Schultz did not.

On Christmas Eve, a four-judge panel from the Appellate Division's Third Judicial Department agreed that the government had discretion to settle the case.

"This settlement was legal because the Assembly faced its own liability as an employer of the victims - liability that extended above and beyond the personal liability that Lopez faced for his prolonged mistreatment of these staff members," Justice John Egan wrote for the court.

Justices William McCarthy, Michael Lynch and Eugene Devine joined the opinion, but they remained troubled about the lack of transparency surrounding the deal.

"Nonetheless, our decision should in no way be construed as approving defendant's efforts to cloak the settlement in secrecy," their six-page ruling states. "When, as here, public funds are utilized to settle a tort claim, we perceive no authority to impose a confidentiality restriction in the settlement agreement. These are public funds, and the public is entitled to disclosure as to how the funds are expended."

An attorney for Mr. Silver did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.

Meanwhile, Silver's lead counsel in his criminal case asked a federal judge today for more time to challenge his client's convictions.

If granted, Silver's first post-trial motion will be submitted on Jan. 21.

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