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Hempstead Town hires law firms to represent board members

The Hempstead Town Board discusses the hiring of outside counsel on May 8, 2018. Credit: Newsday / Stefanie Dazio

The Hempstead Town Board voted Tuesday to hire outside counsel to represent board members in Supervisor Laura Gillen’s lawsuit against former Supervisor Anthony Santino, the town board and the town’s union.

Gillen amended her lawsuit Monday to remove the names of council members after they objected last month, and the names of the town’s Civil Service commission members.

Gillen filed her lawsuit last month in Nassau County Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning personnel changes and a no-layoff union clause approved during Santino’s final board meeting in December.

The amended lawsuit also included the addition of eight taxpayers as plaintiffs. Gillen said she would instruct newly- hired Lake Success firm Abrams Fensterman to only represent her and not the new plaintiffs even though they had planned to represent the taxpayers for no charge. Town board members had objected to the taxpayer representation.

“It may not be a direct conflict but it certainly gives the appearance of one,” Councilman Bruce Blakeman said.

The board also voted to hire Rosenberg Calica & Birney LLP of Garden City to represent Councilman Edward Ambrosino; Bisceglie and Associates PC of Mineola for Councilman Dennis Dunne Sr.; Lamb & Barnosky LLP of Melville for Councilman Anthony D’Esposito; Debevoise & Plimpton LLP of Manhattan for Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and La Reddola, Lester & Associates LLP of Garden City for Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. Partner Steven M. Lester serves as counsel to the town’s Democratic caucus.

The town board voted last month to hire Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP of Mineola to represent Santino.

Blakeman, an attorney who voted against both of the Santino administration measures in December, has opted to represent himself.

Goosby also voted against both resolutions in December and King Sweeney voted against the no-layoff clause.

With the exception of King Sweeney’s lawyers, the firms would be paid $975 a day for trial work and $225 an hour for nontrial work. Debevoise & Plimpton LLP’s rates are $800 an hour for partners, $600 an hour for associates and $175 an hour for project assistants, legal assistants and summer associates.

The legal fees would be paid through the general fund’s undistributed fees and services account.

Mike Fricchione, the town’s press secretary who usually acts as Gillen’s spokesman, said the account held about $1.1 million that is usually meant for outside counsel costs.

King Sweeney has asked the town comptroller’s office to set up a reserve fund to cover the legal costs.

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