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Oyster Bay Town Board OKs $1.2 million in legal fees

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in

Harendra Singh walks out of federal court in Central Islip with after being released on bail on Wednesday, August 3, 2016. Credit: James Carbone

The Oyster Bay Town Board approved payment of $1.2 million in legal fees to two law firms at its Tuesday night meeting.

The payments included $750,000 for Washington, D.C.-based Covington & Burling LLP to represent the town in housing discrimination cases brought by the U.S. Department of Justice and New York State, and $539,871 for Manhattan-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP to represent the town in litigation arising from disputed loan guarantees by the town to creditors of former concessionaire Harendra Singh’s companies.

The payments were approved as a resolution that had not been announced prior to the meeting. Town Attorney Joseph Nocella told the board the payments were for past work.

Nocella said he had negotiated a $235,996 discount from the Covington & Burling bill and said that the firm agreed to discount its rates going forward.

The Justice Department in 2014 alleged in a federal suit that the town engaged in discriminatory practices by giving preferences to town residents and their children in its senior and first-time homebuyer programs.

Nocella said that any municipality in this situation needed “to hire respected outside counsel with the specialized knowledge and the expertise to handle this defense.”

A judge put the case on hold, at the government’s request, until the federal corruption case against former Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditta is resolved.

Town officials did not respond to requests for the total approved to date for the firm but town records show that at least $1.2 million has been approved since 2013 for defense of the federal housing case as well as a similar case brought by the New York State Department of Human Rights.

The legal fees approved for Quinn Emanuel bring the total approved for that firm in the Singh matters since 2015 to $1.1 million, records show.

Three of Singh’s creditors — two affiliates of Connecticut-based The Phoenix Cos. and New York City-based Atalaya Asset Income Fund II LP — brought suits against the town last year seeking to collect about $20 million on disputed loan guarantees allegedly made by the town.

One of Phoenix’s cases, brought in state Supreme Court in Mineola, was reassigned last month to Judge Linda Jamieson, a Supreme Court justice from Westchester County.

“Whenever there maybe any appearance of conflict — a judge from outside the judicial district concerned is brought in,” New York State Court system spokesman Lucian Chalfen said in an email.

The other Phoenix case, brought in federal court, has been adjourned until April. In the Atalaya case, a state judge in November ordered Singh and his companies to pay Atalaya $2 million but did not rule on Oyster Bay’s liability.

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