Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan).
By Jon Campbell
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.
"By law, it comes to us to determine a reasonable rate," Freeman said. "We analyzed similar cases in the Southern District (of New York) and determined $500 an hour for attorneys and $200 an hour for paralegal services."
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.
Assemblyman Kieran Michael Lalor, R-Fishkill, Dutchess County, said it is "outrageous with a capital 'O'" that taxpayers would be on the hook for Silver's legal fees.
"This is just the latest abuse of the New York taxpayer and the public trust of New Yorkers toward their government," Lalor said. "It's unbelievably sordid."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said it's a "legal question" whether Silver's attorneys fees are covered, not a "judgment question."
"The law prescribes what legal expenses are reimbursable," Cuomo told reporters Monday in Manhattan. "So it's what the law says, it's not a judgment call."