A Nassau judge said she was considering additional penalties against the owners of Cold Spring Hills nursing home after the facility ignored a contempt order for failing to make a $2.65 million payment. Credit: Newsday

A Nassau judge Thursday said she was considering additional penalties against the owners of Long Island's second largest nursing home after the facility ignored a contempt order for failing to make a $2.65 million payment toward health care benefits of the facility's more than 400 employees.

The announcement, by state Supreme Court Justice Lisa Cairo, capped an unusual day in Mineola in which all but three minutes of the legal proceedings were kept secret from the public. Ostensibly, the subject of the court appearance was whether the owners of Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation should be forced to make the health care benefit payment and if workers there could lose their health care by Monday.

The nursing home and State Attorney General Letitia James' office, which sought the contempt order on behalf of 1199SEIU National Benefit Funds, appeared in court after Cold Spring Hills failed to make Cairo's Wednesday deadline to make the court-ordered payment.

Cold Spring Hills, which has more than 500 residents, this week appealed the contempt order to the Appellate Division, which denied its request for an emergency stay. The Appellate Division ordered parties to return April 26 to argue the merits of the appeal.

For nearly two hours Thursday, attorneys for the nursing home and the Attorney General's Office met with Cairo in the judge's chambers.

When they finally emerged, Cairo ordered the courtroom sealed and told spectators, a Newsday reporter and labor union members to leave. 

Shortly before 1 p.m., Cairo reopened the courtroom, where she said the court had heard arguments about whether Cold Spring Hills should receive additional penalties for failing to comply with the contempt order. 

“That's the only arguments that were heard by the court today,” Cairo said. “ … I have reserved decision on my ruling with respect to whether a fine should be incurred.”

A copy of the order sealing the court — a highly unusual move typically reserved for cases such as those involving a minor — was provided to Newsday by the court and shows the request was made by James' office.

“Based on the argument of the State and balancing the critical health care interests at stake, the court has determined sealing of the contempt proceedings and associated transcripts to be warranted,” Cairo wrote in the sealing order.

The court cited state law that says sealing is permitted if there is “a compelling interest that likely would be harmed by granting public access.”

The Attorney General's Office and attorneys for Cold Spring Hills declined to comment when asked by Newsday if the topic of the closure of the financially troubled nursing home, which has been actively seeking a buyer, was discussed during the closed proceedings.

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on why it sought the order. Cold Spring Hills lead attorney Paul Kremer also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the roughly 440 employees at Cold Spring Hills could lose their health benefits Monday if the payment is not made.

“We are disappointed that Cold Spring Hills management has chosen yet again to jeopardize the health benefits of close to 500 caregivers and their families,” union spokeswoman Rose Ryan said. “Management still has time to make their contractually required payments to the workers’ health fund — and we hope that they will do the right thing for the staff and the residents.”

A Nassau judge Thursday said she was considering additional penalties against the owners of Long Island's second largest nursing home after the facility ignored a contempt order for failing to make a $2.65 million payment toward health care benefits of the facility's more than 400 employees.

The announcement, by state Supreme Court Justice Lisa Cairo, capped an unusual day in Mineola in which all but three minutes of the legal proceedings were kept secret from the public. Ostensibly, the subject of the court appearance was whether the owners of Cold Spring Hills Center for Nursing & Rehabilitation should be forced to make the health care benefit payment and if workers there could lose their health care by Monday.

The nursing home and State Attorney General Letitia James' office, which sought the contempt order on behalf of 1199SEIU National Benefit Funds, appeared in court after Cold Spring Hills failed to make Cairo's Wednesday deadline to make the court-ordered payment.

Cold Spring Hills, which has more than 500 residents, this week appealed the contempt order to the Appellate Division, which denied its request for an emergency stay. The Appellate Division ordered parties to return April 26 to argue the merits of the appeal.

For nearly two hours Thursday, attorneys for the nursing home and the Attorney General's Office met with Cairo in the judge's chambers.

When they finally emerged, Cairo ordered the courtroom sealed and told spectators, a Newsday reporter and labor union members to leave. 

Shortly before 1 p.m., Cairo reopened the courtroom, where she said the court had heard arguments about whether Cold Spring Hills should receive additional penalties for failing to comply with the contempt order. 

“That's the only arguments that were heard by the court today,” Cairo said. “ … I have reserved decision on my ruling with respect to whether a fine should be incurred.”

A copy of the order sealing the court — a highly unusual move typically reserved for cases such as those involving a minor — was provided to Newsday by the court and shows the request was made by James' office.

“Based on the argument of the State and balancing the critical health care interests at stake, the court has determined sealing of the contempt proceedings and associated transcripts to be warranted,” Cairo wrote in the sealing order.

The court cited state law that says sealing is permitted if there is “a compelling interest that likely would be harmed by granting public access.”

The Attorney General's Office and attorneys for Cold Spring Hills declined to comment when asked by Newsday if the topic of the closure of the financially troubled nursing home, which has been actively seeking a buyer, was discussed during the closed proceedings.

The Attorney General's Office declined to comment on why it sought the order. Cold Spring Hills lead attorney Paul Kremer also declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the roughly 440 employees at Cold Spring Hills could lose their health benefits Monday if the payment is not made.

“We are disappointed that Cold Spring Hills management has chosen yet again to jeopardize the health benefits of close to 500 caregivers and their families,” union spokeswoman Rose Ryan said. “Management still has time to make their contractually required payments to the workers’ health fund — and we hope that they will do the right thing for the staff and the residents.”

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