Oyster Bay has approved $1.8 million for outside lawyers this year, more than double what it approved all of last year, according to a Newsday analysis of town board resolutions.
The increase is largely due to three approvals: $430,000 for "housing issues" and other matters; $250,000 to prepare for possible litigation over the town's guarantees of loans for indicted concessionaire Harendra Singh; and $250,000 for potential litigation that town officials have declined to identify.
Residents at town board meetings this year have questioned the impact of legal costs on the budget.
"The legal fees that are utilized to protect the town by retaining this firm come out of our budget, comes out of taxpayer funds," Town Supervisor John Venditto said in response to a question from a resident at a Sept. 1 board meeting about approving $250,000 to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP in Manhattan for potential Singh-related litigation.
Town officials have said outside law firms are needed for expertise in certain areas that may not be present in the town attorney's office.
Funds that are approved for legal counsel are not necessarily spent. Oyster Bay did not provide numbers for its actual spending on outside legal counsel.
Oyster Bay officials either declined to comment or did not respond to questions submitted in writing over the past three weeks about the town's legal fees.
Last year, the town approved $738,800 for legal fees, according to Newsday's analysis. The totals do not include resolutions where no dollar amount was given or where only an hourly rate was given. The town's biggest year for legal fee approvals in the past five years was 2013, when they reached $2.4 million, in part because of a lawsuit brought by Taubman Centers Inc. over the town's sale of the Cerro Wire site in Syosset to another company.
On that case, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP was hired through Central Islip-based Sinnreich Kosakoff & Messina LLP, one of the town's regular outside counsels. The town approved paying Sinnreich $950,000 for "various matters" in 2013. Oyster Bay officials did not respond to questions about how much of that was for Quinn Emanuel.
In November 2013, the town also approved $250,000 to hire Washington, D.C.-based Covington and Burling LLP to protect the town against "imminent" federal litigation over housing. In 2014, the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York sued Oyster Bay for alleged discrimination in its housing programs. That case is ongoing. This year, the town approved an additional $375,000 for Covington and Burling for housing issues.
Town officials have not said why they approved $250,000 to hire the Manhattan-based firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP on April 28 other than that it was to "ensure proper protection of the town's interest" for "potential litigation."
This year, U.S. News & World Report named it "law firm of the year" for banking and finance litigation. Town spokeswoman Marta Kane declined to comment on whether the town had used the firm since the April approval.
Among other Nassau County municipalities using outside law firms, the Town of Hempstead spent $2.6 million last year while North Hempstead spent $241,937 and Glen Cove spent $531,778, according to numbers provided by the municipalities. Long Beach spent $407,379 during its last fiscal year, which ended on June 30.
The town also regularly approves legal fees to defend general liability cases brought against the town.
This year, the town has approved $445,000 for this purpose compared with $275,000 last year. The town also approved $50,000 to hire counsel for its ethics board, which it did not hire last year.
Oyster Bay Town legal spending approvals
SOURCE: Oyster Bay Town board meeting minutes.
NOTE: Totals do not include resolutions that only disclosed hourly rates or did not disclose any dollar amount.