On Wednesday, December 30, the New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) issued a report on former State Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak. Mr. Gabryszak, who resigned from his position in 2014 amid allegations of sexual harassment, is now facing new allegations regarding the inappropriate use of his elected office and resources for his reelection campaign. Mr. Gabryszak has been subpoenaed, but his attorney has said he will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination if he were to appear in court.
Noted constitutional attorney Barry Covert spoke to WGRZ about Mr. Gabryszak’s case and his 5th Amendment rights. The full story is available on the WGRZ website.
Assemblyman accused of creating hostile work environment
In January of 2014, Dennis Gabryszak resigned from his position as State Assemblyman after seven female staffers accused him of creating a hostile work environment by sexually harassing them, according to WGRZ. Two months later, JCOPE launched an investigation into Mr. Gabryszak’s case to determine whether he violated the Public Officers Law by inappropriately using his position of power. The report on the investigation, released on December 30, states that Gabryszak created “an environment in which he could engage in sexually inappropriate behavior with the female members of his staff” and that he “used the powers and perks of his position as a member of the Assembly to engage in knowing, intentional, and targeted mistreatment of female members of his Assembly staff.”
WGRZ reports that the ethics board’s investigators spoke to 11 former members of Gabryszak’s staff, who said that the Assemblyman engaged in several inappropriate actions, including saying he could fire them for their appearance, sending them explicit images, and making inappropriate requests of them. The report is now in the hands of the Legislative Ethics Commission, which will review the findings before action is taken against Mr. Gabryszak.
Invoking the Fifth Amendment
According to WGRZ, Mr. Gabryszak was subpoenaed to testify, but he did not appear because his attorney indicated that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. Barry Covert told WGRZ that, although this is a common legal move, “if there are civil lawsuits now, he will not be able to exercise his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. If you do exercise your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in a civil lawsuit, there’s actually a presumption against you for asserting that right.” Regarding potential penalties levied by the Legislative Ethics Commission, Mr. Covert went on to say that “the fact that he’s no longer a legislator does not really matter here. They can still try to fine him, or they can recommend that the case be sent to a prosecutor to prosecute for a violation of the Public Officers law, or any other laws that could be somehow brought into the realm of these litigations. So there are potential civil fines, and potentially it could be referred to a prosecutor for a criminal prosecution.”
Although he did not testify, WGRZ reports that Mr. Gabryszak did submit a written response acknowledging that his “vulgar attempts at humor” were “unbecoming of a public servant”. He denied any intentional wrongdoing regarding either the harassment or the inappropriate use of his office.
About Barry Covert
Mr. Covert, a senior partner in Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria’s Criminal Defense Trials and Appeals Practice Area, is known for his aggressive representation of clients in the areas of New York State and federal criminal trials and appeals; driving while intoxicated; constitutional law, including First Amendment, civil rights actions, and federal False Claims Act; defending against allegations of scientific misconduct and fraud, research misconduct and fraud, plagiarism, and fabrication of evidence; and professional licensing defense. Mr. Covert frequently provides legal analysis for WGRZ and other media outlets.