The Hempstead Town Board voted Tuesday to hire an outside law firm to represent former Supervisor Anthony Santino in a lawsuit filed by current Supervisor Laura Gillen against Santino, the board and the town’s union.
Gillen sued the parties in Nassau County Supreme Court on April 11, seeking to undo personnel changes and a no-layoff union agreement approved by the town board under Santino’s leadership in December.
The board voted 5-1 to hire Bee, Ready, Fishbein, Hatter & Donovan LLP to represent Santino in the case because “the town attorney has a conflict of interest by the very nature of the parties in the matter.” Deputy Supervisor Bruce Blakeman was absent from the meeting, and Gillen voted against it because she said the firm had a conflict. Gillen said she did support, however, the hiring of an outside attorney for Santino.
The vote followed sparring on the dais between Gillen, Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney and Senior Councilwoman Dorothy Goosby. King Sweeney, the board’s majority leader who voted against the no-layoff clause, said each board member had been sued personally — which Gillen disputed — and would likely need to hire their own lawyers to represent them at taxpayer cost. Goosby also voted against the clause.
The Mineola law firm will be paid $975 a day for trial work and $225 an hour for nontrial work for Santino’s representation, the resolution states. The fees will be paid from the town’s general fund.
Gillen has stated that while she hired her own outside attorney to file the lawsuit, she plans to apply for the town to cover her legal costs.
The board approved an amendment 4-3 on Dec. 12 to Civil Service Employees Association Local 880’s collective bargaining agreement, which says “no employee shall be terminated for reasons due to budgetary, economy, consolidation, abolition of position or curtailment of activities, but may be terminated only for misconduct or incompetence.”
The same day, the board voted 5-2 to transfer or promote scores of employees to different departments or grant pay raises. Gillen is contesting 14 of the nearly 200 personnel moves, alleging that they account for $2.2 million in salaries of Santino’s political allies.
King Sweeney said the town comptroller will send the board members a biweekly report of the lawsuit’s expenses, which would be posted online along with the legal bills.
“Taxpayers now have the right to know where their money is going for this lawsuit,” King Sweeney said in a news release.