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Internal Rift Over Harassment Scandal Threatens State Ethics Board

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore (Credit: CBS 2)

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore (Credit: CBS 2)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York’s secretive ethics board made it clear Monday that members did not vote to block the investigation of a sexual-harassment scandal in the state Assembly.

The issue was discussed in a closed-door meeting a week ago, which has shaken the 10-month-old board. One member quit Friday over what he called a lack of independence from Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislative leaders who appointed the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

On Monday, two board members led an effort to disclose publicly what happened in the two-hour private meeting a week ago. That motion was eventually defeated, but JCOPE seemed ready to move closer to following the state open meetings law by announcing its votes after each session.

“No one would come to this table to protect anyone — to block an investigation,” said Commissioner Marvin Jacob, who was appointed by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. “It’s time to dispel it.”

Other commissioners said investigative matters must remain confidential to protect the integrity of the probe and any victims.

“We have to be disciplined, and not overly reactive,” Chairwoman Janet DiFiore said.

Board members said they were upset with what they called a leak about a decision last week to block an investigation into sexual harassment in the Assembly. Members are prohibited from disclosing information from a private meeting at the risk of being charged with a misdemeanor.

Silver approved a $103,000 agreement in June to end sexual-harassment claims against Democratic Brooklyn Assemblyman Vito Lopez.

A special prosecutor is already investigating the settlement and later harassment claims against Lopez.

The JCOPE board also indicated at its meeting Monday that an internal rift is a threat to the continued operation of the commission.

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(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)