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Albany, first heal thyself Silver aware of aide's behavior before it resulted in $500,000 taxpayer bill

Many New York State taxpayers probably missed that they'd agreed to pay $500,000 to settle a lawsuit for sexual assault by a top aide to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

A female Assembly staffer accused Silver's chief counsel, J. Michael Boxley, of raping her June 10, 2003, after the two went drinking. Boxley denied the charges, but later pleaded guilty to one count of sexual misconduct, received a sentence of six years of probation and a fine. Also, his name went from Silver's tight hierarchy of power to the state's sex offender registry. In 2001, another female Assembly staffer had accused Boxley, 44, of sexually assaulting her.

In the lawsuit just settled, a now 24-year-old staffer alleged Silver improperly left Boxley in place after the 2001 allegation anyway. It also accused Silver and the Assembly of "tolerating a culture of sexual harassment in the workplace." The plaintiff's attorney, Hillary Richard, noted the Assembly settled for a huge chunk of change. They also settled rather than see the inner workings of the speaker's office displayed before a jury and the public in court.

Silver and the Assembly are in the midst of trying to pass tougher sex-offender laws this session. Start at home: The lawsuit argued that Silver should have acted after the 2001 complaint. Then, he denied a request to appoint an independent investigator to look into the woman's accusations against Boxley. Silver instead assigned another one of his aides, who Boxley regularly worked with.

This from the only Democrat among Albany's Big Three, a lawyer and a person who should know better. This all occurred in an Albany atmosphere where Boxley's case was not unique. As documented by News reporter Tom Precious and others over the years, Albany remains a place where powerful men, away from home and families for long periods of time, are not always on their best behavior around young women who owe them their jobs.

Once again, Albany also shows little concern for the people who pay its bills, support its perks and bankroll its excesses -- the taxpayers.

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