Lawyers to get windfall for State Senate coup mess

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ALBANY - The State Senate coup derailed key legislation and tarnished reputations, but it also produced a windfall for lawyers involved in multiple lawsuits.

The fees of outside attorneys hired by some to help with the cases likely will approach $100,000, according to calculations by Newsday based on interviews and records. In one instance, legal advisers will be paid using a mix of tax dollars and campaign donations, though the breakdown remains unclear.

Gov. David A. Paterson and Senate Democrats supplemented their legal staffs with outside lawyers. Senate Republicans and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli relied solely on staff.

The outside lawyers were necessary because Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who represents the government branches, cannot participate in suits where his clients oppose each other.

At issue was the legality of the June 8 leadership coup and the governor's authority to withhold senators' pay and compel them to meet. The Senate deadlock ended July 9.

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Senate Democrats recently received the first bill from their legal advisers: William Conboy II of Albany charged $8,312.50 for 33 1/4 hours of work, or $250 an hour. The bill is expected to be the lowest from the four lawyers.

Richard Emery and Andrew Celli Jr., both of Manhattan, worked more hours and charge higher fees. Emery's hourly rate is $750 and Celli's, $525.

Martin Connor, an elections lawyer and former Senate Democratic chief, also lent a hand. But he's not charging an hourly fee, preferring instead to be a "freelance consultant," said Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran.

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Connor, of Brooklyn, declined to comment. Emery and Celli were on vacation, and Conboy didn't return a telephone call.

Democrats don't yet know the total they will be paying. But legal experts predicted the tab would likely exceed $60,000.

Conboy will be paid from the Senate budget. Some of the others "might be a combination" of tax dollars and funds from the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. "We don't want the public paying for anything that isn't specifically related to governing," Shafran said.

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But Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group cautioned against the use of campaign money, saying it "should be used for campaigns, not for legal defenses."

After the coup, Paterson hired Albany lawyer Thomas Gleason. He has a six-month contract valued at $49,500, according to the comptroller's office. No bills have been submitted. Gleason was out of the country Wednesday.

Paterson aide Marissa Shorenstein said Gleason worked on the governor's push to withhold senators' paychecks and the appointment of a lieutenant governor. She said, "No campaign funds will be used to pay the legal bills."

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