Oyster Bay’s outside attorney and a creditor suing the town over disputed loan guarantees have asked a judge to approve a procedure that could allow some documents in the case to be confidential.
New York State Supreme Court Judge Linda Jamieson in White Plains last month denied the town’s motion to dismiss the case and earlier this month told the parties she may order them to enter into a confidentiality agreement to ease the discovery process as the case heads to trial.
The lawsuit is one of three the town faces from creditors seeking to collect about $20 million from Oyster Bay after the borrowers — companies established by indicted former concessionaire Harendra Singh — defaulted on the loans. In 2015 federal prosecutors charged Singh with crimes including bribing a former deputy town attorney.
The proposed confidentiality agreement in the White Plains case was submitted to the court last week by the town’s outside legal counsel and signed by lawyers for the town and the creditor, a subsidiary of Connecticut-based The Phoenix Companies. The agreement could put documents and testimony out of reach from the public.
“It’s routine in all commercial litigation cases,” Town Attorney Joseph Nocella said Wednesday. He said he didn’t know whether either side would seek to make use of the agreement. In the town’s case, “most likely it would come into play if there was something like attorney-client privilege communications,” he said.
The case involves communications by former Town Attorney Leonard Genova and former deputy town attorney Frederick Mei. In a court filing in a related case brought last year by Phoenix in Connecticut, Genova asserted lawyer-client privilege when refusing to answer some written questions.
Court records are presumed to be public but are not subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Law and can be sealed, said Robert Freeman, executive director for the New York State Committee on Open Government.
“It is rare that a court will permit confidentiality of something like this,” he said.
Freeman said state trial rules require a judge to consider the interest of the public as well as the parties when deciding whether to seal records. “They don’t seal records except in very narrow circumstances,” Freeman said.
If approved by Jamieson, the proposed order would establish a process under which records could be sealed. It would automatically seal deposition transcripts for at least 30 days.
Lawyers for Phoenix did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.