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Judge orders halt to Nassau fines on county businesses

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Adams in Mineola

State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Adams in Mineola on Jan. 5, 2016. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

A state court judge on Monday halted the collection of hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines imposed on Nassau businesses by the county assessor last month.

State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Adams signed four separate temporary restraining orders, requested by four different law firms representing some 1,000 commercial property owners, to bar the county from enforcing the fines until at least Feb. 8 when a hearing is scheduled in Mineola.

One of the orders extends a restraining order against Nassau from last August until the state appellate division determines whether the county has the authority to impose the fines, which top $300,000 for some businesses, for allegedly failing to file financial statements with the assessor.

“It’s a total win for the commercial property owner,” said attorney Laureen Harris, who is representing about 100 businesses. “I am very happy, especially for the small business owner, that they will get their day in court.”

Lawyer Donald Leistman, representing 800 commercial property owners said, “Once the court has a chance to digest all the arguments and papers, we hope there will be a favorable outcome on behalf of the property owners.”

Leistman and other lawyers contended the county imposed the fines regardless of whether the commercial property owners had submitted the financial statements or were exempt from filing.

The administration of County Executive Edward Mangano, which is being represented in court by Mangano’s former law firm Rivkin Radler, declined to comment.

The commercial property owners filed suit last week, contending the penalties were excessive and illegal. They argued the large fines were disproportionate to the offense, and said the county had not provided required notice or hearings before imposing the penalties in December. If not paid by Feb. 10, the fines would automatically turn into liens against the properties, accruing 12 percent interest.

The county legislature increased the fines in Dec. 2013 for businesses that failed to submit annual income-and-expense statements, which are used by the assessor to determine the value of commercial properties throughout Nassau.

The county has yet to collect any of those increased penalties because Harris immediately filed suit, contending the county did not have the authority under state law to impose such fines. Harris’ initial lawsuit suit is now before the appellate division. She obtained the extended restraining order.

“Homeowners should not have to cover the costs of noncompliant commercial property owners and not a single business has to pay a fine if they just comply with the law.” said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow.

Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who is running for county executive this year, SAID after Adam’s ruling, “Nassau is stuck in another legal mess because of Ed Mangano’s blatant money-grab and house-of-cards budgeting.”

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the income and expense law was not a Mangano initiative, but was put forward by the GOP majority on the county legislature.

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