The Integrity of the Institution
Kacie Candela (KC): If this is your first time listening to Women in the Room, go back and start with episode one. Things will make a lot more sense.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Bittersweet”]
Andrew Seger (AS): Hi. I’m Andrew Seger.
KS: And I’m Kacie Candela.
AS: Before we start, we just want you to know we’ll be talking about sexual assault in explicit terms, and some people may find it difficult to listen.
KC: It’s January, 1998. Elizabeth Crothers is 21 years old, almost 22. She just graduated from college, a semester early, and moved to Albany to live with her best friend.
AS: She gets a job at a lobbying firm for a few months while she tries to land her dream job at the time - working at a think tank, doing foreign policy work in Washington DC. She gets it. Spends a year there. But foreign policy was a little too slow for her.
KC: An Assemblyman she met while working at the lobbying firm in Albany rings her up, offers her a job, and she takes it.
AS: At 23, Elizabeth wanted to be taken seriously. She was a young professional who’d lived abroad, travelled across Eastern Europe by herself, before cell phones and wifi.
Elizabeth Crothers (EC): I did things that I had done before like I never used just my first name, I always used my first and last name. And I was very work oriented so kind of like... I went shopping with my mother and got business suits.
KC: Even though Elizabeth tried to keep it business, she still had to go out in the evenings to fundraisers and other events. Everyone did.
EC: They didn’t seem totally abnormal to me because in large part because there were so many events at night. Fundraisers essentially, or advocacy events. So things went on at night, like work things went on at night. So that’s just what everyone did.
AS: At the time, Elizabeth hadn’t heard about the Bear Mountain Compact. Actually, she felt pretty safe in Albany. She even felt comfortable taking rides home from acquaintances.
KC: She was pursuing a masters in political science at SUNY Albany at the time. And one night, after class, the assemblyman she worked for asked her to meet him at a bar. Justin’s.
AS: Justin’s was a popular spot for Albany staffers, so it’s no surprise that Michael Boxley was at the bar when she got there. Boxley was considered by many to be one of the most powerful people in the city. He was chief legal counsel to the Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver. He had his hand in every negotiation, law, and budget that passed through the capitol.
EC: He bought the drink and then started a conversation and we talked about some legislation and he talked about my clothes. So he was to my right and I remember people who I knew coming and saying hi to my left. And he did this thing... he made the conversation more private. Like I remember not being able to finish a very cursory conversation. But I didn’t notice it so much except for really thinking it was more just arrogance.
KC: Elizabeth remembers having about a glass and a half of wine before she says Boxley offered to drive her home. She accepted, but he wanted to stop at his apartment first.
EC: Did I want to see--- he had redone his kitchen or something like that, like the stainless steel appliances. No alarms were going off and it was right near the governor’s mansion. So he wanted to show me his apartment, so I was like sure whatever and so that was that.
KC: Elizabeth’s account of that night hasn’t changed in the nearly 20 years since it happened. She says he raped her, - asked her to write her phone number down on a napkin, - and took her home.
EC: He drove me. He put his hand on my knee and everything but I was like-- I came back-- yeah. He put his hand on my knee and everything. It’s like he wanted to pretend that nothing was wrong. He was overcompensating though. Even for him like I could tell he was overcompensating.
AS: When she finally got home late that night, she had a headache. Despite the advice she’d heard in the movies, and on TV, she took a bath and a shower, and went to bed.
EC: I’d had a tampon in and so I was worried about the tampon. That and a headache. So I went to the hospital the next day. The doctor just said give me headache medicine... and...and... do you want to say anything more about this. I said no and I remember I wanted to get to an ENCON... an environmental conservation committee meeting that my boss had at noon.
KC: So Elizabeth went to work, sat through her meeting, and tried to do her job as if nothing happened. But she says she was so shaken up, she could barely process everything that was happening around her. She decided she had to tell her boss, Assemblyman Pat Manning, about what happened.
AS: Manning took her to meet with Assemblyman John Faso, the Republican Minority Leader. Because of the way the Assembly’s structured, Elizabeth was technically on Faso’s payroll even though she worked in Manning’s office. It’s confusing, and it doesn’t make a ton of sense-- we know. But that’s just how it works sometimes.
KC: Elizabeth sat down with the minority leader and his legal counsel, who weren’t very supportive - at least the way she tells it. They told her she had to report what happened to the Assembly or else they would. While all this was happening, Elizabeth was also trying to make sure she was safe - from STDs and an unplanned pregnancy.
EC: I went back to the district. I stopped at a Planned Parenthood and got the morning after pill. So that cost forty one dollars. And um, my watch had come off at his house and I wanted the watch, so I wanted the watch and the forty one dollars.
AS: The next week, someone from Faso’s office reached out to Elizabeth and gave her the number of a female detective with the Albany police.
EC: So I went to the police and talked for a long time to a detective who was very honest and just told me what was going to happen, and if I pursued it-- she wasn’t trying to discourage me. She was frankly being quite honest. Just that it was going to be public and drawn out and long and the way I was feeling then, and for quite a while after... I couldn’t imagine doing... doing it. I couldn’t imagine it.
KC: Elizabeth didn’t file charges, and she was even hesitant to put her name down on any of the police forms. She liked her job. She wanted to keep working in Albany. But she also wanted Boxley to be reprimanded for what she says he did.
AS: So one day she marched into Speaker Silver’s office. He was Boxley’s boss - AND, all sexual harassment complaints at that time went through him. She figured she could just tell him what happened and Boxley would be fired.
EC: He knew. He said, well Michael’s story is different. But my first priority is to protect the institution.
KC: Elizabeth says Speaker Silver told her his job was to protect the integrity of the New York State legislature.
AS: But Elizabeth quickly perceived that Silver didn’t define “integrity” as ensuring a harassment-free workplace. For more than two decades as Assembly speaker, he oversaw all the complaints of sexual harassment and assault. But multiple sources have told us, during sexual harassment training every year, he sat reading the newspaper instead.
KC: Silver’s role in adjudicating complaints has been characterized as one of containment. His leadership had the effect of maintaining Albany’s appearance and protecting his political allies. Elizabeth says he told her he wasn’t going to fire Boxley, but he would make sure Boxley didn’t go to bars in Albany anymore. But he did. Elizabeth even ran into him, with Speaker Silver, at a restaurant once.
AS: The formal investigation into Elizabeth’s complaint was led by Bill Collins, who was Counsel to the Majority at the time. That means he didn’t only work alongside Boxley-- he worked FOR him.
KC: So you decided to keep working in Albany.
EC:I wanted outstay him. It was just pride. It was a terrible decision.
AS: Elizabeth kept working in the Assembly for more than a year, trying to outlast Boxley. She would climb 9 flights of stairs to her office, every day, rather than risk the chance of running into him in the elevator.
KC: While working in the same building as the man she says raped her, Elizabeth was going through a convoluted reporting process and mediation proceedings, and seeing her reputation tarnished in Albany. From her point of view, Speaker Silver did everything in his power to cast doubt on her story.
AS: Pretty soon, everyone in Albany heard about what happened, and Elizabeth became an outcast...
EC: I didn’t know how big of a deal it was going to be. And my mother found out via the newspaper. And I’m close to my mother too, it was awful.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Cloudbank”]
Joe Morelle (JM): Michael Boxley and I had been friends for a number of years as he had worked in the administration and then came over to the assembly as counsel...
KC: Then-Assemblyman Joe Morelle had been serving in the Assembly for about ten years when the news broke about Elizabeth’s allegation against Boxley.
JM: Right after Elizabeth made public her accusations I was asked, sort of offhand by a local reporter what I thought. I made the mistake which I regret very much of saying I don’t believe a word of it partly because you know I had heard a different story from Mr. Boxley and I just you know some information was out there that I took at face value which obviously I should not have done. But I didn’t know Elizabeth at the time.
AS: No one really knew Elizabeth at the time. She was a just a staffer. It would take more than 15 years for Morelle, who was recently elected to Congress to hear her side of the story. She actually helped campaign against him during his congressional primary in 2018.
JM: She came to Rochester and described in pretty emotional terms how my words had affected her and they appeared in the newspaper the next day. You know, I immediately wrote a note to her expressing my profound regret that I had said anything that would hurt her and obviously regretted having used those words.
AS: Morelle and Elizabeth ended up talking on the phone, and since he’s won he’s been trying to be more wary of sexual harassment in the workplace. He even took Elizabeth as his guest to the State of the Union this year.
KC: But the fact of the matter is, even if Morelle had taken the time to hear Elizabeth’s side of the story all those years ago, it probably wouldn’t have changed much. At that time, power was so concentrated in the speaker’s office, no one else in the Assembly really had anything to do with how Elizabeth’s complaint was handled and Bill Collin’s investigation.
AS: The speaker’s office ended up bringing in a mediator. Elizabeth was in one room, Boxley was in another down the hall.
EC: I don’t know what we were mediating. I honestly don’t know what we were mediating. The mediation ended when she said Michael would like to apologize. He did not apologize. And it was a disaster and I just kind of shut down and he sat there just...That’s what was the final straw. Like I couldn’t... I mean I lost 20 pounds and was just like I can’t do this anymore. And Boxley and Silver had the patience... I realized they could out wait me. They could tire me out. And they would tire me out. That I’ve realized.
KC: At the end of mediation and the investigation, Elizabeth says she did get her watch and the $41 for the Plan B pill. But she also insisted that Boxley to get an HIV test, and she wanted to see the results.
AS: In order for that to happen, she says the Assembly made her sign a document saying she would never file a civil suit. She says they also asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but she refused. And besides, it was already all over the news.
EC: So I agreed not to sue. I got the results of a HIV test and a statement was issued and life went on.
[MUSIC - Podington bear “Pounded Piano”]
AS: I wish we could tell you that, after Elizabeth, Michael Boxley was never accused of harassing or raping anyone ever again. But unfortunately, he was.
KC: The next woman to accuse Boxley of rape has never been identified publicly. She’s worked really, really hard to keep her name private. We know who she is, but she didn’t want to talk in person.
AS: We still believe it’s important, and valuable, to share her story - which, as far as we know, has never been told in this way. The following account is based on documents we obtained from a lawsuit she won in 2004.
KC: Jane Doe started working in Albany, as an intern, in 2001. After her internship ended, the Assemblywoman she was working for hired her back full time. Eventually, she moved up in the Albany office. Got more responsibilities and a higher salary.
AS: Jane Doe met Michael Boxley, briefly, while she was still an intern. A few years later, he called her at work, at the Assembly office and asked her to dinner. She told him she was too busy, said he could come to an evening event she was hosting, and he did.
KC: Then, according to the lawsuit, he did it again. Called her at the office, asked her for dinner. This time, she accepted. But it was too much. He put his hand on her leg, said he wanted to have sex with her. She told him no - that he was being inappropriate. That she wanted to go home. But when they got to her apartment, he insisted that she let him in. He tried to kiss her anyway. She shoved him away from her, and he left.
AS: Over the next few months, Boxley wouldn’t leave Jane Doe alone. But we want to be clear - he didn’t harass her every time they ran into each other. Which was pretty often, at after-work events.
KC: But he kept calling her at work, and even sent her flowers at the office. She told her co-workers they were from her boyfriend. In the lawsuit, opposing counsel tried to use this against her.
AS: Then, he called her boss. Invited the Assemblywoman, and Jane Doe, to a dinner with lobbyists. Jane didn’t want to go, but Boxley told her, more than once, that she needed to “meet the right people” to advance her career. He portrayed himself as her golden ticket. He even asked her to join his “mentorship program,” and said she should act less confident and more deferential toward him.
KC: One night he was at a bar with some other politicians. Invited her to stop by. So she did. But after a while, she started to feel really sleepy. Confused. Disoriented. Then, Jane’s memory cuts out from the time she thinks she left the bar, to the early morning hours. The next thing she remembers is waking up in her apartment. She’s naked. And Boxley’s on top of her. When she asked him to stop, he refused.
AS: Jane Doe went to the Albany police, told them that she was raped, and Michael Boxley was arrested the very next day. Wearing a black suit with a shiny gold tie, he was led out of the Capitol Building in handcuffs. It took the Assembly a week to place him on administrative leave - which was paid, by the way. He was charged with first and third degree rape, but pled guilty to sexual misconduct, a misdemeanor. He later admitted, in open court, under oath, that he had sex with her without her consent.
KC: Elizabeth Crothers can still remember the moment she found out Boxley had been arrested.
EC: It was a very strange...I was really just... Him being arrested very much shocked me. I remember taking my boyfriend’s Ambien that night and it doing absolutely nothing and taking another one-- doing nothing. He was like do you want me to come back? I said no no no. But he did.
AS: By the time Boxley was arrested, Elizabeth’s story had been canonized into Albany lore. Everyone who was anyone had at least heard of her allegation against Boxley...including Jane Doe. So she called Elizabeth.
EC: So then, so she called me and she was not mad... She just wasn’t mad. And said that-- she-- part of the reason she reported was because she knew people would believe her because of what had happened before.
KC: Why did you think she’d be mad at you?
EC: Because I didn’t handle it right. I didn’t solve it. I don’t know. I didn’t...
KC: Because it happened again?
EC: Mm hmm. I didn’t go to the police. I didn’t... I mean there’s a list of ways I didn’t do anything right.
AS: Jane Doe eventually sued The Assembly, Speaker Silver, and Michael Boxley for creating and condoning a hostile work environment.
KC: There’s some irony here. The Attorney General at the time tasked with defending the Assembly, Silver and Boxley was Eliot Spitzer. He was eventually elected governor, but resigned after a prostitution scandal.
AS: We’re going to try to explain what the different sides argued in this case because these questions are still relevant today. And it’s important to note, that no one disagreed that Boxley raped Jane Doe. What they did disagree about, is whether the Assembly and Speaker Silver could be held liable for allowing it to happen, especially after Elizabeth--and other women before her--reported him for harassment and rape.
KC: The first question we need to address is whether what happened to Jane Doe qualifies, under the law, as happening in the workplace. Spitzer argued that Boxley calling her at the office, sending her flowers, and asking her boss to bring her to a work dinner so he could see her - did not qualify as a “hostile work environment” under the Human Rights Law, because most of their encounters happened after work, outside the office.
AS: But as we know, the line between work and social events in Albany isn’t just blurry - it’s nonexistent. And Jane Doe’s lawyers knew that too. They argued that employers CAN still be held liable for harassment that occurs off duty when the “nature of the business requires off-duty interactions” - like everything in Albany. OR “when a supervisor - in this case Michael Boxley - uses his authority to compel the victim of harassment to meet outside the office.”
KC: What happened here fits those exceptions pretty well: Jane Doe accused Boxley of assaulting her after a work-related function that he coerced her to attend.
AS: The second question that needs attention is whether the Assembly and Speaker Silver are liable for what happened to Jane Doe.
KC: Spitzer tried to argue that Speaker Silver wasn’t liable because he wasn’t her direct employer, she didn’t tell him about the harassment, and he wasn’t an “active participant” in the harassment itself.
AS: But just because Jane Doe didn’t complain about it, doesn’t mean Silver couldn’t have prevented it.
KC: That’s what Jane Doe’s lawyers argued. Silver knew about Elizabeth Crothers’ formal complaint against Boxley, and other women before her, and did nothing. Silver didn’t discipline or reprimand him - even though that’s literally his job, according to the Assembly’s sexual harassment policy at that time.
AS: Jane Doe won the suit. She got more than half a million dollars, and the Assembly said they’d change their policies and procedures for handling sexual harassment complaints.
AS: Did you feel like there was any semblance of justice in how that played out?
KC: For you?
AS: Was it gratifying in any way?
EC: No. I mean, I was glad she won it and they didn’t win it, but I wouldn’t use the word gratifying or pleased. It didn’t change anything really for me or for her.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Lens Flare”]
AS: Or for many of the women who came after them. That’s next time, on Women in the Room.
Assemblyman Vito Lopez (VL): At least a phone call in the morning and one text at night. And, if you go to the bathroom at four in the morning, text me.
Leah Herbert (LH): And he just wouldn’t stop. Like it would...and it was interspersed with critiques about my job performance and I felt completely helpless. I felt suicidal. I, at that point, my physical health had just completely deteriorated.
[MUSIC - Podington Bear “Box Canyon”]
KC: Before we go, we should tell you that we did reach out to Michael Boxley and an attorney representing Speaker Silver. They didn’t respond to our request for comment.
AS: This week’s show was reported and produced by me, Andrew Seger, and Kacie Candela; and edited by our News Director George Bodarky. Chuck Singleton is our General Manager. Our music is by Podington Bear. Special thanks to Robin Shannon and the whole WFUV News team.
KC: Sexual harassment has been in the headlines a lot lately, and there’s only so much we can include in each episode. Follow along with us on twitter, @pricklypodcast, for updates on advocates efforts and new legislation. And check out our website: pricklypolitics.atavist.com.
AS: Prickly Politics is available on SoundCloud, iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Tune In, and Stitcher. If you find our reporting interesting, and important, please rate our show, and share with your friends.
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