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Appellate judge stays release of Levy pact until at least Aug. 2

Then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in 2011.

Then-Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in 2011. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A state Appellate Court judge has temporarily blocked the court-ordered release of former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy nonprosecution agreement at least until the Suffolk district attorney files opposition papers by Aug. 2.

In addition, Appellate Division Associate Justice Cheryl Chambers, in an order issued Friday, also precluded the Suffolk district attorney’s office from releasing any investigative material surrounding the 2011 Levy probe, which led him to forfeit his $4 million campaign fund and not seek reelection. Newsday earlier this month had filed a second Freedom of Information Law request seeking copies of the investigative materials, after originally filing for the nonprosecution agreement in February.

Chambers granted Levy’s request to temporarily delay the July 16 order by Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Paul Baisley to release the agreement to Newsday in 10 days, pending a hearing Aug. 2 "and determination of the appeal."

Chambers' temporary stay also granted Levy’s request to bar from release "any and all documents related to the underlying nonprosecution agreement," of Levy and "any and all documents underlying the investigation of Steve Levy" pending the hearing and the determination of the appeal.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini’s office had indicated to Newsday that it was moving to comply with Newsday's second FOIL request shortly after it was filed on July 2.

Newsday initially filed a FOIL for Levy’s long-withheld nonprosecution agreement in February, and Sini’s office had prepared to release it in May when Levy filed a complaint seeking to block it.

The district attorney’s office and Newsday in seeking release of the agreement had cited Levy’s own public comments in a Newsday opinion piece expressing regret about signing it and suggesting the accusations in it were mere "irregularities."

Suffolk County Attorney Dennis Cohen in court papers argued Levy waived "whatever privacy interests he might have" had by "openly discussing" it.

Cohen further argued that the case goes "right to the heart of what [the Freedom of Information Law] is supposed to be: a mechanism to provide citizens with the means to obtain information about the day-to-day functioning of government and to provide a tool for exposing waste, negligence and abuse on the part of government officers."

Levy, in court papers, has argued that release of the papers would damage his professional career, in part because the lines of the investigation are included in the document and readers may deduce guilt even though he admitted no wrongdoing as part of the agreement and has never been charged with a crime.

Shortly after signing the agreement in 2011, Levy acknowledged "questions have been raised concerning fundraising through my political campaign," and that since the activity "occurred under my watch, I accept responsibility." Former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said at the time that the investigation raised "serious issues with regard to fundraising and the manner in which it was conducted" by Levy’s campaign.

Spota and his top anticorruption chief Christopher McPartland have since been convicted on unrelated federal obstruction charges and await sentencing. Levy has accused them of "invasive spying" according to a statement Monday from his lawyer, David Besso.

Besso said Levy would once again pursue a compromise with the district attorney to release some of the material sought in the Newsday FOIL.

"We had earlier offered a compromise that would allow for some disclosure if sealing could protect legitimate privacy interests violated by the invasive spying conducted in the attempted coup of the former county executive," Besso wrote. "The county rejected it, but we will pursue it again as a possible alternative to continuing the appeal."

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