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NIFA rejects Nassau legislators' plan to borrow $3.2M to cover legal costs

Nassau's fiscal control board Wednesday night rejected $3.2 million in county borrowing for legal judgments and settlements, calling it "bad practice" to take on the new debt for routine costs.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, with five of its seven members present, failed to authorize the bonding to resolve seven cases, including a $1.2 million judgment against the county for a Seaford gun shop owner who said police wrongfully arrested him in 2007.

NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman called the board's decision not to take an affirmative vote "tantamount to a rejection," and sent a message to lawmakers that they must meet obligations. "The county needs to take responsibility," Kaiman said.

All judgments and settlements had been OK'd by the county legislature last fall. NIFA, under its current leadership, had largely approved borrowing for legal expenses, but at its final meeting of 2014, sent a signal by rejecting Nassau's $11 million bond request for a class-action judgment on jail strip searches because an appeal was pending.

The county, which ended 2014 with a $70 million sales tax shortfall, pledges to end all borrowing for day-to-day expenses by 2018. County Executive Edward Mangano said he will also set up a "litigation fund" by 2017 to pay settlements and judgments without borrowing.

In an interview Wednesday night, he said Kaiman told him after the meeting that NIFA was mainly sending its message to the legislature. Kaiman's public comments didn't single out Mangano nor the 19 lawmakers.

"This has been the practice for decades and decades," Mangano said of borrowing to resolve lawsuits. He added that he and Kaiman agreed to meet soon with legislative leaders to address the issue.

Later, Kaiman said that Mangano has largely taken the lead over lawmakers to "present solutions" to the budget shortfall.

Other cases included in the bond request rejected by NIFA:

$459,000 to settle a wrongful-death lawsuit by the family of Sherry Lang, a pedestrian struck and killed in Bellmore in 2011 by a Nassau police officer, Ernest Thompson, who later testified that he was speeding while on duty, despite not responding to an emergency.

$311,100 to settle a lawsuit with a man alleging that the county failed to protect his identity as a confidential informant in a gang murder case.

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