ALBANY - The state will pay $500 an hour for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's defense in a lawsuit spurred by a sexual harassment scandal, according to an arrangement approved last week.
Silver, D-Manhattan, was sued last month by two women who said they were harassed by former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn. The civil suit accused Silver of having "personally assisted" Lopez by approving a confidential settlement with two previous accusers rather than referring their complaints for investigation.
Under a pay structure approved by the state comptroller's office Friday, Silver's private representation -- the Manhattan-based firm of Proskauer Rose LLP -- will receive $500 an hour. The state will also pay $200 an hour for paralegal services, according to Jennifer Freeman, a spokeswoman for Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
On Wednesday, two Democrats - including the Governor voiced frustration with taxpayers covering the cost.
"The numbers are outrageous," said Governor Cuomo during a stop in Amherst on Wednesday. "It is not a matter that I handle. There's a law that allows reimbursement under certain circumstances. Either these facts will fit these circumstances or not. I don't make that determination."
The Western New York lawmaker who has called for Silver to step down is now calling for an investigation.
"I believe there was official misconduct," said Assemblymember Michael Kearns (D-142nd District). "I would like an investigation to occur but I do not believe still to this day that we should be paying for his legal fees."
The pay rate and Silver's private attorney were first reported by the New York Daily News.
Silver became eligible for a state-covered private attorney after Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office recused itself from the case. The New York Public Officers Law allows for such reimbursement if an official is sued while acting in their official capacity.
Schneiderman's office offered broad advice to an Assembly attorney who was constructing a settlement for Lopez' first two accusers. Lopez' request to have the state cover his legal expenses was denied.
"The Attorney General has determined that there is a need for counsel to act in his stead who will contract with the Comptroller and the Attorney General's office," Silver spokesman Michael Whyland said in a statement. "This is customary and usual under the public officers law."
Silver's role in the sexual harassment case has led to intense criticism from Republicans and a pair of Democrats in the Assembly, though the Assembly's female caucus and New York women's groups have largely rallied around him.
He has admitted to mistakes in his handling of the Lopez case but said he believed he was acting at the request of the victims. Lopez was censured and stripped of his seniority by the Assembly late last year after a third and fourth accuser came forward; he resigned earlier this year.
WGRZ/ Gannett Albany