A Manhattan judge is directing a special prosecutor to look into how Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver handled sexual harassment allegations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez but reports that the state's ethics commission is investigating only Lopez and not Silver are sparking controversy and even getting Gov. Cuomo involved. YNN's Zack Fink filed the following report.
As reports surface that JCOPE is limiting the scope of its inquiry to just sexual harassment allegations against Vito Lopez and not how it was handled by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, new questions are being asked about the commission's independence, including from fellow Democrats.
"I am actually shocked that JCOPE is not going to investigate Sheldon Silver and the appropriation of $100,000 to cover up this sexual abuse that was committed by Assemblyman Lopez," said State Sen. Tony Avella. "JCOPE is specifically set up to investigate these types of issues and I think they failed in their first test."
Members of the commission met in Albany Tuesday but refused to confirm whether an investigation was even launched. Late Friday afternoon, Commissioner Ravi Batra resigned, saying the process has become too tainted.
"The press ought not to know more than what I know as a JCOPE Commissioner," he said. "And when that happens, we have a problem."
In a radio interview Friday afternoon, Gov. Cuomo took what sounded like a swipe at Batra and Democratic Senate Minority Leader John Sampson, who appointed him.
"I think everybody is responsible for the people they appointed and it's a reflection on them," the governor said.
JCOPE was created last year and it's been struggling to find its footing ever since. Critics say there is an inherent design flaw. Eight of the 14 members must vote to launch an investigation. But one of the members appointed by the house being investigated essentially has veto power. So, for example, if one of Silver's appointees refuses to vote for an inquiry into how Silver handled something, JCOPE suddenly loses some of its jurisdiction.
"New Yorkers believed that this was going to be the new sheriff in Albany to address these new charges of misconduct and criminal activity," said Dick Dadey of Citizens Union. "And if they don't rise to the occasion and do their job, New Yorkers are going to be sorely disappointed."
In a statement, Silver reiterated that he welcomes an investigation, which he says will demonstrate that the Assembly's actions were legal and proper. The governor, meanwhile, has threatened to launch his own investigation if JCOPE fails to broaden its inquiry.