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Nassau lawmakers approve $925,000 for outside lawyers

The Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in

The Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola, which serves as the seat of Nassau County government, is seen here on June 26, 2012. Credit: Amy Onorato

Nassau County lawmakers Monday approved spending of up to $925,000 on outside legal counsel to represent the county in various lawsuits against Nassau and its employees.

The county legislature's Republican-controlled Rules Committee -- largely on 4-3 party line votes -- authorized six different contracts, including two amendments to existing pacts.

Most of the agreements relate to federal civil rights actions against the police or sheriff's departments. The county argued that it was necessary to hire the law firms to avoid possible conflicts of interest between the county and individual defendants.

"The county needs to retain outside counsel so we can develop a strategy to defend all the parties fairly and adequately," said Chief Deputy County Attorney Lisa LoCurto.

The firm of Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles of Islandia will receive up to $350,000 from three separate contracts.The firm already has a $175,000 contract to represent the county in a lawsuit brought by Randy White, of Roosevelt, who alleges that his arrest in 2013 on a misdemeanor warrant following his testimony in a politically charged elections case violated his civil rights.

The largest contract, for a maximum of $450,000, will go to Peter J. Tomao of Garden City. He is representing the estate of the late Joseph Volpe, a county police detective who took part in the arrests of two men in the 1984 murder and rape of Lynbrook teenager Theresa Fusco.

A federal jury last year awarded the men, who were exonerated after serving nearly 18 years in prison, $18 million each in damages. Nassau is appealing, and a judge recently ordered Nassau to hire outside counsel to represent the detective's estate.

Legislative Democrats, who have been critical of Nassau's legal spending, supported that contract because of the judge's order. They voted against the other pacts, saying the county should rebuild the county attorney's office, staffing of which has been cut under Republican County Executive Edward Mangano.

"We believe this is work that could be done in-house," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

Newsday has reported spending on outside counsel rose from $1 million in 2009, the year before Mangano took office, to $5 million in 2013.

Also Monday, the Rules Committee approved a $41.5 million contract to repair sludge dewatering equipment at Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plan in East Rockaway that was damaged in superstorm Sandy. The work -- awarded to Farmingdale-based Posillico Civil -- will be reimbursed by federal funds, officials said.

The committee also approved $28 million in contracts to two firms, RJ Industries of Plainview and Philip Ross Industries of Wyandanch, to replace and relocate 18 Sandy-damaged wastewater pump stations along the South Shore. Officials said they expect the federal government to reimburse that work as well.

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