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McKinstry: Court fights are no way to run Westchester

The Westchester County Office Building in downtown White

The Westchester County Office Building in downtown White Plains. (Oct. 23, 2012) (Credit: Xavier Mascarenas)

And then there were three.

A New York State Supreme Court justice on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Westchester County Board of Legislators against County Executive Rob Astorino, whittling the number of court fights between the two branches down to three.

The dismissal left both sides claiming victory, though it’s more likely to leave taxpayers scratching their heads: They’re the real losers in these courtroom dramas since they’re paying tens of thousands of dollars for all these legal challenges that stem from the two branches’ inability to work effectively together.


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The money spent on lawyers ought to be directed toward valuable county programs or staff — both of which have been cut in recent years.

Monday’s lawsuit was over how the county funds its capital projects — important infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. In a lawsuit on behalf of the Board of Legislators, chairman Ken Jenkins contended that Astorino ignored the board’s wishes -- and subsequent veto overrides -- when devising capital priorities in 2011.

Acting Supreme Court Justice James W. Hubert rejected the Astorino administration’s contention that the board and Jenkins had no right to sue. The judge agreed with Jenkins’ view that the county attorney should represent the board in such cases. But the judge also said the budget matter was moot as the 2011 budget “has come and gone” and been replaced with the 2012 budget.

That was the grounds for dismissal.

The three other outstanding lawsuits involve day care, a bus route, and the makeup of the county Board of Acquisition and Contract. There had been at least five lawsuits between the two branches. Democrats on the board last month dropped another lawsuit against the county executive over parental fees for day care.

All of the challenges are tied to authority -- or over which branch has the right to make decisions.

It’s hard to know who realy wins and loses, but the two sides may learn that these "victories" mean little when they face another set of judges in November: the voters.
 

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