ALBANY — An investigation into an allegation that a state senator forcibly kissed a former staffer won’t be conducted by the chamber because the matter does not fall under its jurisdiction, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said on Thursday.
In a statement, Flanagan praised State Sen. Jeff Klein as a “good and decent person who treats others with respect.”
“At this point, this is an allegation in which no formal complaint was ever made. While it may be within the scope of other entities, an investigation into this matter is not within the jurisdiction of the Senate,” Flanagan, a Long Island Republican, said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Klein, a Bronx Democrat who heads a breakaway group of Democrats, held a conference call with reporters denying an accusation made against him by a former staff member, who claimed that Klein forcibly kissed her on March 31, 2015. The call was prompted by an impending Huffington Post story in which the former staffer, Erica Vladimer, claimed that Klein “shoved his tongue” into her mouth outside of an Albany bar.
In a statement released late last night, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “this disturbing situation should be investigated, and I believe it should be done immediately and independently.”
Scott Reif, a spokesman for Flanagan, told the New York Law Journal Thursday afternoon that the state Senate does not have the purview to investigate the allegations because a formal complaint against Klein was never filed.
State Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins of Westchester, who leads mainline Democrats in the chamber, has also called for an independent investigation of the alleged incident between Klein and Vladimer.
Sonia Ossorio, the president of the National Organization for Women-New York, has also called for an investigation into the allegation.
The head of the Senate ethics committee, Republican State Sen. Elaine Phillips of Long Island, said in a statement that it would be up to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics or the Legislative Ethics Committee to investigate the allegations against Klein.
Walter McClure, spokesman for JCOPE, said in an email Thursday afternoon that, “while I cannot comment, as a matter of law, on whether an investigation has been commenced or on the status of any investigation that was commenced, I can say that JCOPE can commence an investigation on its own without a referral or a formal complaint.”
JCOPE previously has been criticized for its handling of sexual harassment allegations. The ethics panel issued a report in 2013 against then-Assemblyman Vito Lopez about sexual harassment allegations made in his office. While the report did not name the victims, it described their jobs and when they held them, which made it easy for reporters and other Capitol observers to figure out who they were.
Klein, a former name partner of Bronx-based Klein Calderoni & Santucci, a malpractice and elder law firm, has hired Michael Zweig and Mark Goldberg of Loeb & Loeb to conduct a preliminary investigation, which included interviews with staff members and members of his conference.
A memorandum from Klein’s lawyers said “it defies both reason and credibility to suggest Sen. Klein would have, in full view of both his longtime girlfriend, numerous staff members, and in the middle of a very visible and public street, assault the former staffer, as her allegation suggests.”
In an open Facebook post Thursday, Vladimer said Klein “abused his power by violating my body, and ultimately my mind and soul.” Vladimer called on the Legislature to pass bills protecting victims of sexual harassment.
“But legislation and rules can only go so far. It’s time to hold our elected officials accountable. I am willing to risk everything to help that happen. I am pleased to see calls for an independent investigation, and I am hopeful that it will not stop at this one incident, but attempt to overhaul a broken system where such a culture has been allowed to fester for decades,” Vladimer said in the post.
This story has been updated with a comment from Walter McClure, spokesman for JCOPE, who clarified that JCOPE can commence an investigation on its own without a referral or a formal complaint.