ALBANY – New York’s attorney general has denied a request from former Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak that the state pay his legal fees as he fights numerous charges of sexual harassment brought by seven female former staff members.
The office of Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the decision Friday evening, and said it is final unless the assemblyman chooses to appeal.
Attorney Terrence M. Connors of Buffalo, who is representing the former assemblyman, challenged the statement from the attorney general, saying the matter is still open.
Connors said Friday night he was informed by Schneiderman’s office that there is no actual legal case yet by the lawmaker’s accusers so there is nothing for the state to defend. The women have filed a “notice of intention’’ to sue, which starts a one-year clock before they have to bring litigation in the state’s Court of Claims, where parties go when seeking financial damages against the state, he said.
“A notice we received merely indicates their belief that there is no pending action so the request is premature,’’ Connors said of Gabryszak’s request that the state pay for his legal representation. But Connors said there are no legal steps his client can be taking even with the notice of intention to sue by the seven women.
“We read the statute to provide [state-funded] defense at this point,’’ he said.
Gabryszak has denied the allegations.
Gabryszak also has retained Mark Glaser of Albany, former ethics counsel for the Assembly.
Still unsettled, both Connors and Schneiderman’s office agreed Friday night, is whether the state might be liable to pay for any damages a judge might award the women against Gabryszak for creating what his accusers allege was a hostile work environment that they say forced them to resign their jobs and lose salaries and other benefits.
There are former officeholders who have had the state pay their legal costs, but in other past cases involving criminal complaints and sexual harassment, many lawmakers have used their campaign accounts to pay the costs of attorneys.
Gabryszak’s campaign account has just $4,440.
Meanwhile, new reports regarding that account reveal that one of the women who accused Gabryszak of sexually harassing her donated money to his campaign six months before leveling the allegations against him, and after she stopped working for him.
Kristy Mazurek of Lancaster, who served as his communications director for two years until 2009, donated $55 to Gabryszak’s campaign in July of last year.
She recently became the seventh woman who worked during the past several years on his Assembly staff to accuse the lawmaker of sexual harassment.
“I contribute to elected officials throughout Cheektowaga and Lancaster and send people who work with me to fundraisers because I sit on the Lancaster Democratic committee,’’ Mazurek initially told The News.
“What’s the scandal?’’ she asked.
Asked why she would give money to a politician who she alleged had sexually harassed her in 2008 and 2009, Mazurek said, “Basically to keep an eye on him.’’
“There’s a saying, ‘keep your friends close and your enemies closer,’ ’’ she said.
Later, after checking her records, Mazurek told The News she escorted Wes Moore, a Democrat who lost a county legislative bid last year, to a Gabryszak fundraiser so he could meet local political officials and leaders. She noted that prior to that she had not contributed to Gabryszak’s campaign since leaving his staff in 2009.
She said she attends many political fundraisers because of her role as a political talk show host.
She said there have been numerous intersecting personal connections between her family and Gabryszak over the years and that making political donations to local officials is a long practice for her family. Her father is a former county legislator.
New records show that Gabryszak, who resigned this week, was raising a brisk amount of money for his Assembly re-election campaign – until mid-December when the sexual harassment accusations became public.
Gabryszak reported raising $17,964 the past six months and spending $25,065.
Gabryszak spent money on donations to political causes, dinners, a New York City taxi and a category he labeled as “staff hotel.” He ran up a total tab of more than $2,200 at 10 hotels – nine in Albany and one in Buffalo – during the past six months.
The second largest expenditure, $3,201, came Jan. 9, five days before he resigned, for an expense he listed as “reimbursement” to himself. The report did not elaborate.
Donations, mostly under $200 apiece, which is about on par for most rank-and-file lawmakers, came from an assortment of companies beyond New York, such as Anheuser Busch Sales of Hawaii and Illinois-based Kraft Foods, and local, including Mr. Bill’s Restaurant in Cheektowaga and Uniland Development. All but one – a $500 check the campaign dated as Jan. 3 from the New York State Troopers PAC – were listed on the form as coming in before the allegations against him were made public.
Gabryszak received money from the Seneca Nation of Indians; SCOPE, a gun ownership rights organization; the Progressive Democrats of Western New York, and local unions representing trades workers, Buffalo firefighters and Cheektowaga police captains and lieutenants.