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After unsuccessful appeal, Nassau ordered to pay more

A federal judge in Brooklyn has ordered Nassau County to pay an additional $127,000 in attorney's fees and tweaked the county for pushing an unsuccessful appeal that attacked him for taking sides in a police-hiring discrimination case.

U.S. District Judge Frederic Block said the county's appeal of a 2007 jury verdict and an award of $950,000 in damages and fees to Patricia Luca for being denied a job by the Nassau County police didn't succeed in any respect - but did require him to order the county to pay more to Luca's lawyer for fighting the appeal.

"The county, of course, had the absolute right to pursue an appeal," Block wrote in a footnote to his fee ruling on Monday. "The stark reality, however, is that the Court of Appeals by summary order made short shrift of the county's appeal and the county has now incurred an additional $127,060.45 in attorney's fees."

Block also made his feelings clear on the underlying merits of Luca's suit. "The total monetary judgment which the county must now pay the plaintiff for the privilege of keeping a highly qualified woman from becoming a Nassau County police officer (with interest running until the judgment is paid) is $1,077,034," he said.

Luca, a former county correction officer from East Meadow, alleged that she was passed over for a police job in retaliation for a harassment complaint she filed in 2000 against the correction department. The jury found in her favor following a trial presided over by Block in 2007.

The county, in its appeal, contested Block's calculation of damages and attorney's fees, and also his handling of the trial. At one point, when a county witness testified that there were suspicions about Luca's involvement in an insurance scam, Block interjected, "You sure you're not making all of this up?"

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in upholding Block in August, said his comment "crossed the line" of impartiality, but said the error wasn't serious enough for a reversal. The court did tell Block to reconsider whether his award of fees of $400 an hour to Luca's lawyer, Frederick Brewington of Hempstead, might have relied on Manhattan rates.

Block not only upheld the rate and his initial award of $179,000, but tacked on the $127,000 for work on the appeal. A county spokesman said it is exploring the possibility of another appeal.

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