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Mangano among those connected to powerful LI law firm

Edward Mangano holds the Nassau County flag on

Edward Mangano holds the Nassau County flag on Wednesday after he officially won the race for Nassau County executive. (Dec. 2, 2009) Credit: Michael E. Ach

The Web site for Rivkin Radler, Long Island's largest law firm, proclaims its "attorneys often do more than just follow the news, they help shape it."

Newly elected Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is just one of several current and former firm members who've served in elective office. They include former state Sen. John Dunne; former U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh; and the firm's current managing partner, William Savino, a past mayor of Old Brookville.

But just how Mangano will shape Nassau's lucrative legal business - one of the biggest potential places for patronage - will be decided soon after he takes office Jan. 1.

Traditionally, the old GOP machine in Nassau rewarded lawyers who contributed to their campaigns with plum legal assignments. Records show Rivkin Radler represented the county in more than 50 cases during Republican rule in the 1980s and 1990s, and it was among several firms and individual lawyers that received outside retainers.

But Mangano and the law firm both say that won't happen this time. Mangano has announced he will sever his tie to Rivkin Radler by Dec. 31 and vows he won't play favorites.

Rivkin Radler will have to find its place in line "just as it is for all those looking to compete" for Nassau's legal business, Mangano said.

Since 2001, Mangano has worked as an "of counsel" attorney for the firm, specializing in trademark and copyright cases, while also serving as a $39,500-a-year GOP county legislator from Bethpage. Mangano declined to give his annual pay from the firm.

Savino said his firm's members have a history of public service "at all levels and for all [political] parties," and some have volunteered to help in Mangano's transition. Those familiar with the firm doubt it will seek much legal work from Nassau because its focus generally is on commercial clients.

But even if anyone tried to revive the old machine patronage system with legal work for supporters, it may be difficult to do so, experts say.

Tougher "pay-to-play" rules can get lawyers into disciplinary trouble, said Roy Simon, director of Hofstra School of Law's Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics. He pointed to professional codes that prohibit any exchange of money, including political contributions, in return for government work.

"Rivkin Radler has to be somewhat careful," said Simon. "You can't say, 'We'll get right in to see Ed,' or 'Ed will do a favor for us,' " said Simon.

Also, how Mangano shapes the county attorney's office may be decided as much by cost considerations as politics. Nassau's outside legal work has declined under County Attorney Lorna Goodman, who instead has relied on younger in-house staffers.

As a result, the $7 million spent for outside legal counsel in 2002, the year Democrat Thomas Suozzi took office as county executive, dropped steadily to $508,000 as of Dec. 1, Goodman said.

Goodman, who expects to leave the job, has an appointed legal staff of 108, and all could be replaced as soon as Mangano takes office.

So far, Mangano isn't saying who his new county attorney will be, or how he might change the county's legal office. He's working between now and Dec. 31 to hand off his old Rivkin Radler cases to other lawyers at the firm. And though Rivkin Radler says it's proud of Mangano, it's not clear how many members might be willing to join him in his new administration.

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