BUFFALO, N.Y. -- While their sexual relationship may have been consensual, Western New York Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak did retaliate against her former Director of Legislation. That's the conclusion the Assembly Ethics Committee drew in a report released Wednesday.
"I just don't think that the facts could support any of those accusations or charges," said Steve Cohen, Wozniak's attorney.
According to the report, Wozniak engaged in a sexual relationship with her staffer in June 2015. Both sides claim to have broken it off later that month, but the committee alleged Wozniak made false statements about the staffers job performance following the break-up.
"It was a very disturbing process that the Assembly Ethics Committee mandates and of course, any violation of their procedures is sanctionable to the assemblywoman so my hands were essentially tied," Cohen said.
The accuser, Elias Farah, is not named in the report. The committee said Cohen violated confidentiality policies by talking about him with the press.
Wozniak has been directed to stop publicizing details of the investigation. The interview with Cohen in this article took place Wednesday before the sanctions were implemented but after a TWC News source indicated parts of what would be in the report.
"If the ethics committee comes down with any findings that we can't live with then we'll appeal it although the appeal process is pretty rigged too," Cohen said.
Wozniak will have to pay Farah's salary and benefits out of her budget until Feb. 2017, unless she leaves office before then or the Assembly places him in a comparable job sooner. She is also banned from having interns and an independent investigator will at least semi-annually survey her employees.
"Putting in a monitor to monitor Angela Wozniak would be entirely inappropriate," Cohen said.
Wozniak's attorney would not rule anything out before reviewing the report.
The assembly's only registered Conservative is up for re-election this fall.
"As far as Assemblywoman Angela Wozniak is concerned, she's got a district that she needs to represent that she does represent and I think she would be happy when this thing is behind her so that she can just keep doing what she's doing," Cohen said.
Farah's attorney has not returned our request for comment.
The Assembly’s sexual harassment policy was developed in the wake of the late Vito Lopez’s scandal, in which the Brooklyn lawmaker was found to have harassed and assaulted women who worked for the Legislature. Despite the women bringing the complaints to the leadership, Lopez continued to harass subsequent aides working in his office.
The committee recommended the following sanctions against Wozniak:
- That a letter of admonition be issued publicly to Assemblymember Wozniak by the Speaker on behalf of the Assembly, enumerating the findings of the Committee, and indicating that Assemblymember Wozniak’s conduct violated the Assembly’s Policy Prohibiting Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation as it pertains to retaliation and is inconsistent with the standards of conduct to which members of the Assembly should be held;
- That Assemblymember Wozniak is hereby directed to cease publicizing details of the investigation and to cease making disparaging statements against her former Director of Legislation, unless reasonably necessary to defend herself in the event of any claims brought against her in an administrative agency or a court of law.
- That the Assembly will make efforts to place Assemblymember Wozniak’s former Director of Legislation into a comparable job with comparable pay and benefits and until such placement has been made, he shall receive pay at the same rate at which he was earning during his employment, beginning February 9, 2016 through and including February 8, 2017, or the end of Assemblymember Wozniak’s term, whichever is sooner. All such pay is to be allotted solely from Assemblymember Wozniak’s staff budget, and her staff budget shall not be increased from its current amount;
- That Assemblymember Wozniak is precluded from having any interns working in her Assembly office or her district office; this prohibition applies to interns assigned by the Assembly as well as any interns that might be engaged through unofficial channels;
- That an independent investigator conduct climate surveys of all of Assemblymember Wozniak’s Assembly employees at least semi-annually to ensure that there is no repeat of the conduct; and
- That Assemblymember Wozniak be required to attend immediate and comprehensive supplemental sexual harassment and retaliation prevention training.